Can Short-Term Fasting
Predict Binge Eating?

In a small study, there was little change
in behavior among university students.


Results of some studies indicate that fasting, or going without food for at least 24 hours, is particularly risky and may predict eating pathology better than do measures of dietary restraint. Drew Anderson, PhD, and Katherine Schaumberg of Albany State University, Albany, NY, examined this hypothesis by evaluating individuals' responses in body image and eating behaviors after a short-term fast.

Forty-two participants were recruited from a large university student population. Each participant met with the researchers 24 hours before fasting, and completed surveys measuring body image and eating pathology. The participants self-monitored their intake of food for 36 hours before the fast. After each meal participants indicated whether or not they felt that they had eaten an excessive amount, and also indicated whether they engaged in urging behavior after eating. They were then asked to fast for 24 hours. At the end of their fast, participants met with the researchers and reported on the success of their fast. They also completed the Body Image States Scale, a 6-item measure that includes six questions, rated on a Likert-type scale that inquires about the subject's feelings regarding their physical appearance at a particular moment in time. The participants then continued to record their intake in detail for 60 hours after the end of the 24-hour fast.

The researchers report that to date the participants have not shown changes in body image. Preliminary descriptive analyses of binge eating and purging indicate that 22% of participants reported eating excessively in the 36-hour period before fasting, and a slightly higher percentage (27.3%) of participants reported eating excessively during the 36 hours after the fast. No participants reported purging prior to the fast, although one reported using compensatory behavior—exercising excessively--after fasting.

The two researchers plan to continue the study of fasting and possible binge eating and purging in a larger sample, with the aim of better determining whether there is a significant increase in binge eating and purging after fasting. The two reported their results at the Eating Disorders Research Society meeting.