Research shows that diets that are high in protein may reduce the frequency of binge eating episodes in individuals with Bulimia Nervosa (BN) or Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
Eighteen women with Bulimia Nervosa or Binge Eating Disorder participated in a five-week study to determine if macronutrient ratio affected the frequency of binge-eating episodes. The study was completed in two phases, one phase was a high-protein phase, one phase was a high-carbohydrate phase; both phases were separated with a one-week “washout” phase. Each participant was provided with a two-week supply of high-protein supplementation, and a two-week supply of high-carbohydrate supplementation. The 280-calorie high-protein supplement contained 75.47% protein, 10.31% carbohydrates, and 14.23% fat; the 280-calorie high-carbohydrate supplement contained 0% protein, 67.3% carbohydrates, and 1.33% fat. The supplements were taken one hour before meals. Participants were required to keep a food diary for the duration of the study.
After each two-week phase, each participant was required to fast overnight and then consumed one 420-calorie supplement of the same composition of the supplement given throughout the phase. Three hours after consuming the supplement, each participant was placed in a private room and presented with a buffet of foods that were typical of both meals and binges. The buffet consisted of a wide variety of foods with varied macronutrient ratios; examples include cheese, cake, cookies, bread, potato chips, ice cream, fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, fish, beans, and peanut butter.
Upon completion of the study, it was determined that the frequency of binge eating episodes were 62% lower during the high-protein phase than during the high-carbohydrate phase. Three hours after high-protein supplementation, participants reported a greater sense of fullness and a reduced sense of hunger; they also consumed 21% less food than they did during the high-carbohydrate phase. It was also noted that participants gained a significant amount of body weight during the high-carbohydrate phase, while body weight during the high-protein phase was stable. The researchers hypothesize that a diet high in protein may protect both eating disordered individuals and non-eating disordered individuals from overeating or binge-eating.
Why did the episodes of binge-eating decrease during the high-protein phase? The researchers believe that when participants consumed the high-protein supplement there was an increased release of the satiety agents CCK and glucagon. When CCK and glucagon is increased, satiety signals are improved or restored. When this occurs, participants were less likely to binge on high-carbohydrate or high-fat foods. By not binge eating on high-carbohydrate or high-fat foods there was inherently an increased proportion of protein in the participant’s diet.
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Latner, J.D., Wilson, G.T., (2004), Binge Eating and Satiety in Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder: Effects of Macronutrient Intake, Int J Eat Disord 2004 Dec;36(4):402-15.