How many doughnuts would you have to eat to feel you had binged? This is exactly the question that Drs. Catherine Greeno, Rena Wing, and Marsha Marcus of the University of Pittsburgh Medical School (one of the major centers of research on binge-eating disorder in the United States) asked overweight binge and overweight nonbinge eaters in a recent study. Before I tell you how their research subjects responded, take out a piece of paper and write your own answer to this question. Next, answer the same question for candy bars, cookies, slices of bread, hot dogs, and slices of pizza.
The binge eaters and nonbinge eaters showed a high level of agreement as to what constitutes a binge in most of the food categories. This may be related to the fact that both the binge eaters and nonbinge eaters were all overweight (unlike the control group of non-overweight individuals in Dr. Johnson's study mentioned earlier).
How do your responses compare? Do you agree that approximately 4 doughnuts makes a binge? Perhaps your answer depends on the size or type of doughnut. What about the other categories? The binge eaters said that a binge begins at 3 candy bars, 9 cookies, 5 slices of bread, 3 hot dogs, or 5 pizza slices.
When asked, "What is the typical amount of each food that you eat?" and "What is the most amount of each food that you have ever eaten?" the binge eaters reported eating more than the nonbinge eaters in every category. They typically ate larger amounts of these foods on a regular basis. During their worst binges the average responses for the "most amount eaten" (all at once) categories were: 5 doughnuts, 4 candy bars, 15 cookies, 4 hot dogs, 6V2 slices of bread, or 614 slices of pizza.