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EMO-EAT

Eating disorders, overweight, and obesity are not only significant sources of personal distress, and highly comorbid with a range of mental disorders but are also associated with physical conditions that profoundly increase mortality rates and reduce disability adjusted life years. Eating-related disorders are, therefore, major contributors to the global burden of disease and pose a major challenge to health care systems in industrialized countries and emerging economies.

Eating serves many functions that go well beyond its homeostatic function as energy source. Food is used to regulate negative emotions and moods, as reward or distractor, or we eat simply because the food is there. Others try to lose weight and chronically restrain their food intake to the extremes of making their perceived self-worth dependent on their dieting success, as is the case in eating disorders. Little is known, however, about the psychological processes involved in the self-regulation of eating, in particular in an environment where the omnipresence of food cues often undermines self-regulation attempts and appetitive drives. The current project will enhance our understanding of self-regulatory processes of eating behaviour in healthy participants and clinical populations. The uniqueness of the current approach lies in its conceptual and methodological approach: (1) At the conceptual level the project will be informed by two sets of theories: models of non-homeostatic eating in healthy individuals and clinical psychological models of eating disorders. (2) At a methodological level the project will combine enhanced, laboratory-based protocols developed in the field of affective neurosciences with improved methods for ambulatory assessment.

This project will investigate emotional and restrained eating as central and potentially common factors in healthy and bulimic eating (BN), together with self-esteem, impulsivity, general psychopathology and compensatory fasting as additional, BN-specific factors. The project comprises an integrated set of studies in healthy individuals with restrained and emotional eating styles on the one hand, and in patients with BN on the other hand (crosspopulation aspect). In addition, the project combines psychometric/field-based methods and laboratory tasks (cross-method aspect) to collect phenomenological (trait- and habitual experience and behaviour) and process (neural computation) data. This will provide a unique data set, which will shed light on a) basic learning principles involved in overeating/bingeing, and b) the neural underpinnings translating eating related states and traits into appetitive motivational and cognitive responding.

Funded by: Fonds National de la Recherche (2015-2018)

Involved members of staff