Brief report: Reciprocal associations between negative affect, binge eating, and purging in the natural environment in women with bulimia nervosa

Jason M. Lavender*, Linsey M. Utzinger, Li Cao, Stephen A. Wonderlich, Scott G. Engel, James E. Mitchell, Ross D. Crosby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Although negative affect (NA) has been identified as a common trigger for bulimic behaviors, findings regarding NA following such behaviors have been mixed. This study examined reciprocal associations between NA and bulimic behaviors using Real-Time, naturalistic data. Participants were 133 women with bulimia nervosa (BN) according to the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders who completed a 2-Week ecological momentary assessment protocol in which they recorded bulimic behaviors and provided multiple daily ratings of NA. A multilevel autoregressive Cross-Lagged analysis was conducted to examine concurrent, First-Order autoregressive, and prospective associations between NA, binge eating, and purging across the day. Results revealed positive concurrent associations between all variables across all time points, as well as numerous autoregressive associations. For prospective associations, higher NA predicted subsequent bulimic symptoms at multiple time points; conversely, binge eating predicted lower NA at multiple time points, and purging predicted higher NA at 1 time point. Several autoregressive and prospective associations were also found between binge eating and purging. This study used a novel approach to examine NA in relation to bulimic symptoms, contributing to the existing literature by directly examining the magnitude of the associations, examining differences in the associations across the day, and controlling for other associations in testing each effect in the model. These findings may have relevance for understanding the etiology and/or maintenance of bulimic symptoms, as well as potentially informing psychological interventions for BN. General Scientific Summary: Negative affect and bulimic behaviors (e.g., binge eating and purging) are associated. This study suggests that elevated negative affect predicts subsequent binge eating, and possibly purging, in women with bulimia nervosa. Negative affect subsequent to binge eating appears to decrease, whereas it may increase subsequent to purging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-386
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Abnormal Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Affect
  • Eating disorder
  • Ecological momentary assessment
  • Emotion
  • Mood


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