Penn Study Shows Dieting Not Associated With Binge
Eating or Depression in Obese Women
(Philadelphia, PA) – Concern about possible adverse effects of
dieting has prevailed since the 1950s when a study drastically cut the
calorie intake of average-weight volunteers and found that many developed
depression and binge eating. Experts today believe that aggressive dieting
in young females may be associated with psychological or physical deprivation
that contributes to binge eating, bulimia nervosa, and related eating
Now a study by researchers in the Department of Psychiatry at the University
of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has shown that sensible dieting
does not appear to precipitate binge eating, depression, or other negative
behavioral consequences in obese women undergoing weight reduction. The
study appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Clinical
Nutrition and is the first designed specifically to determine whether
dieting is associated with ill effects. "These findings should reassure
overweight and obese adults who are trying to lose weight, as well as
health professionals who recommend dieting," said Thomas
Wadden, PhD, lead investigator and director of Penn's Weight
and Eating Disorders Program.
The Penn study examined 123 women with a mean age of 44 years and weight
of 214 pounds, who were determined by an examiner to be completely free
of binge eating prior to the start of treatment. The women were randomly
assigned to one of three dietary interventions:
(1) a meal replacement that prescribed 1000 calories/day during the first
12 weeks and included the consumption of four liquid shakes (OPTIFAST
(2) a conventional diet of self-selected foods with a goal of 1,200 -
(3) a non-dieting approach that encouraged patients to avoid calorie restriction
in favor of paying closer attention to their hunger and fullness levels.
All women received group treatment for 40 weeks and participated in a
six-month follow-up evaluation.
At week 40, women in the meal replacement group had lost 24 pounds, the
conventional dieters had lost 18 pounds, and those in the non-diet group
had lost 2 pounds. Women in the two dieting groups reported significantly
greater reductions in symptoms of depression at week 40, than those in
the non-dieting group. Participants in all three groups reported significant
reductions in hunger.
Binge eating was assessed at weeks 9, 20, 28, 40, and 65 of the study.
At week 28, there was a very small but statistically significant increase
in reports of binge eating in women in the meal replacement group. The
increase, however, declined by week 40 and there were no significant differences
between the three groups in the number of binge episodes at any of the
other four assessment periods, including the 6-month follow-up evaluation.
"Our findings indicate that dieting, including the use of meal replacements,
presents few risks of binge eating or depression in obese women who seek
to lose weight by using sensible methods," commented Wadden. "This
conclusion, however, should not be interpreted as a denial of the potential
perils of aggressive dieting in adolescent girls and young women of average
weight who pursue an ever thinner ideal," he added.
PENN Medicine is a $2.7 billion enterprise dedicated
to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and
high-quality patient care. PENN Medicine consists of the University of
Pennsylvania School of Medicine (founded in 1765 as the nation’s
first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System
(created in 1993 as the nation’s first integrated academic health
Penn’s School of Medicine is ranked #3 in the nation for receipt
of NIH research funds; and ranked #4 in the nation in U.S. News &
World Report’s most recent ranking of top research-oriented medical
schools. Supporting 1,400 fulltime faculty and 700 students, the School
of Medicine is recognized worldwide for its superior education and training
of the next generation of physician-scientists and leaders of academic
Penn Health System is comprised of: its flagship hospital, the Hospital
of the University of Pennsylvania, consistently rated one of the nation’s
“Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Pennsylvania
Hospital, the nation's first hospital; Presbyterian Medical Center; a
faculty practice plan; a primary-care provider network; two multispecialty
satellite facilities; and home health care and hospice.