Amy asks: "Has anyone considered the correlation between undiagnosed insulin resistance and binge eating or emotional overeating?"

Researchers have, in fact, detected an association between decreased insulin sensitivity (or insulin resistance) and binge eating disorder. These two conditions frequently occur together. But we’re still not sure exactly how they are linked.

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin is a hormone that’s secreted by the pancreas when your blood sugar rises—typically after you eat. Its job is to clear glucose out of the blood and into the cells, where it can be either used or stored for future use. When our cells become less sensitive to the effects of insulin, the glucose just keeps circulating in the blood, leading to high blood sugar. Decreased insulin sensitivity is often a precursor to Type 2 diabetes.

Risk factors for insulin resistance include genetic predisposition, sedentary lifestyle, and excess body weight, especially when you carry your weight around the middle. However, it is possible to develop insulin resistance even if you are normal weight. It’s also possible to have excess weight without being insulin resistant.

What is binge eating?

Many of us occasionally engage in behavior that we might describe as binging—whether that’s on Netflix or ice cream. But Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a medical condition characterized by repeated episodes of eating unusually large quantities of food and feeling a loss of control.

It’s important to note that it’s possible to have BED without being overweight, and vice versa. However, people who suffer from BED are more likely to be overweight. And people who are overweight are more likely to have insulin resistance. The question that some researchers are now asking is whether binge eating might be a separate risk factor for developing decreased insulin sensitivity. Alternatively, could insulin resistance possibly lead to binge eating, or is the association simply coincidental?

Does binge eating lead to insulin resistance?

Eating an extremely large amount of food in a single sitting can cause short-term effects on insulin metabolism. And if that pattern were repeated, it could contribute to decreased insulin sensitivity over time. So, it’s plausible that binge eating behaviors could provoke insulin resistance—independent of any weight gain that might occur.

But it's also possible that the "causal arrow" might actually be pointing in the other direction.

Does decreased insulin sensitivity lead to binge eating?

One potential consequence of insulin resistance is disordered appetite signaling. If your cells aren’t getting the glucose that’s released into your bloodstream after you eat, the brain might continue to receive the signal to eat—despite the fact that the...

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