[Triggers of bulimia and compulsion attacks: validation of the "Start" questionnaire]

Encephale. 2014 Sep;40(4):323-9. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2013.06.008. Epub 2013 Oct 1.
[Article in French]


Aim: There are few published studies on the triggers of binge eating in anorexia nervosa of binge/purging subtype (BPAN), bulimia nervosa (BN) and binge eating disorder (BED).

Patients and methods: We validated in 29 patients (10 BPAN, 10 BN and 9 BED) the perspicuity, the clarity and the intra- (doubles) and inter- (test-retest) reproducibility of a 24-item Start questionnaire on the triggers of binge eating. Then the Start questionnaire was administered to 176 patients (65 BPAN, 62 BN and 59 BED patients) being 27.5+9.1 yr old, having 15+9 binge eating (BE) episodes/week, with a mean binge duration of 1 hr 36min (+ 38min)/day.

Results: BE episodes occurred mainly during the second part of the day: afternoon after work (67% of the patients), "tea" time (55%), evening after dinner (42%) and at night (22%). The principal place for BE episodes was at home (96%). The BED patients avoided binges at the parents' home (89%) more often than the BPAN (62%, P<0.02). The binges occurred mainly in the living room (44%), in the kitchen (43%), and less in the bedroom (31%). Hunger pangs seemed to be a trigger of binges in 31% of the patients, and a stronger trigger in BED (42%) than in the BPAN and BN patients (24%; P=0.04). Binge eating episodes could occur despite a high satiety level (just after lunch or dinner) in 29% of the BN and in 16% of the BED patients (P<0.02). Concerning food, the major triggers were high energy-density food (77%) and comfort food (60%), such as chocolate, cakes, bread and pasta. The food consumed for binge episodes (in-binge food) was more often a strong trigger than the other food (not used for binges): olfaction (19% versus 10%), sight (52% versus 25%) and placing in the mouth (71% versus 26%; P<0.02 for all, in the 3 groups). Being tired could be a strong trigger in 37% of the patients, but "being aroused" in the other 38 % of the patients. Stressful events (65%), anxiety (74%), "being under pressure" or irritated (51% and 55%) were of course major triggers in a majority of the patients, as well as sadness (61%), feeling of powerlessness (62%), inefficiency (73%) and depressive state (71%). Flashback from traumatism (sexual trauma in 17% of the patients) was a strong trigger of binges more often in BPAN and BED (44%) than in BN (23%; P<0.05). The binge eating was painful (and "not at all a pleasure") in 69% of the patients, but could also be a relaxing behavior in 31% of the patients, more often in the BED (43%) than in the BPAN patients (20%; P<0.05). The binge eating behavior was quoted as obsessive in 63% of BPAN, 92% of BN and only 34% of BED patients (P<0.001). The patients said that they were unable to avoid the binge (76% of the patients), more often in BPAN and BN than in BED patients (P<0.01). As a whole, 62% of BPAN, 89% of BN and only 4 % of BED patients (P<0.05) were unable to avoid purging (vomiting). In 12% of the cases, there was a pleasure felt when binging. For the other patients, shame, filth and incapacity were the feelings related to binges in 58% of the BPAN, 45% of BN and 43% of BED patients (P<0.04). The global score of addiction (zero=not addicted, 10=very addicted) was 8.56+1.2 in BPAN, 8.42+1.5 in BN and 6.74+1.1 in BED patients (NS between BPAN and BN; P<0.01 between BPAN and BN on the one hand and BED on the other).

Conclusion: The present study has demonstrated the usefulness of the Start questionnaire. It also evidences the key role of intrinsic factors, both metabolic and emotional, as strong triggers for binge eating episodes in BPAN, BN and BED. It has also demonstrated the role of environmental determinants.

Keywords: Anorexia nervosa; Anorexie mentale; Binge eating disorder; Boulimie; Bulimia nervosa; Compulsions alimentaires; Eating disorder; Inducteurs; Triggers of binges; Troubles alimentaires.

Publication types

  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Anorexia Nervosa / diagnosis*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology*
  • Binge-Eating Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Binge-Eating Disorder / psychology*
  • Bulimia Nervosa / diagnosis*
  • Bulimia Nervosa / psychology*
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / psychology
  • France
  • Humans
  • Motivation
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology*
  • Psychometrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Shame
  • Social Environment
  • Social Facilitation
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • Young Adult