Bright light therapy decreases winter binge frequency in women with bulimia nervosa: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study

Compr Psychiatry. 1999 Nov-Dec;40(6):442-8. doi: 10.1016/s0010-440x(99)90088-3.


The study objective was to determine the effect of winter bright light therapy on binge and purge frequencies and depressive symptoms in subjects with bulimia nervosa. Thirty-four female bulimic outpatients were treated with either 10,000 lux bright white light or 50 lux dim red light (placebo control) during the winter months. In this double-blind study, the placebo group (n = 18) and the bright light group (n = 16) were matched for age, degree of seasonality (measured by the Seasonal Patterns Assessment Questionnaire [SPAQ]), and concurrent depression (measured by Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV [SCID]). Three weeks of baseline data collection were followed by 3 weeks of half-hour daily morning light treatment and 2 weeks of follow-up evaluation. There was a significant light-treatment by time interaction (Wilks' lambda = .81, F(2,28) = 3.31, P = .05). The mean binge frequency decreased significantly more from baseline to the end of treatment for the bright light group (F(1,29) = 6.41, P = .017) than for the placebo group. The level of depression (measured by daily Beck Depression Inventory [BDI] scores) did not significantly differ between the groups during any phase, and neither depression nor seasonality affected the response to light treatment. In this double-blind study, bulimic women who received 3 weeks of winter bright light treatment reported a reduced binge frequency between baseline and the active treatment period in comparison to subjects receiving dim red light.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Bulimia / diagnosis
  • Bulimia / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Periodicity
  • Phototherapy / methods*
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / diagnosis
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / parasitology*
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / therapy*
  • Seasons*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires