Neural response to low energy and high energy foods in bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder: a functional MRI study

Brooke Donnelly, Nasim Foroughi, Mark Williams, Stephen Touyz, Sloane Madden, Michael Kohn, Simon Clark, Perminder Sachdev, Anthony Peduto, Ian Caterson, Janice Russell, Phillipa Hay*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)
    25 Downloads (Pure)


    Objective: Bulimia nervosa (BN) and binge eating disorder (BED) are eating disorders (EDs) characterized by recurrent binge eating (BE) episodes. Overlap exists between ED diagnostic groups, with BE episodes presenting one clinical feature that occurs transdiagnostically. Neuroimaging of the responses of those with BN and BED to disorder-specific stimuli, such as food, is not extensively investigated. Furthermore, to our knowledge, there have been no previous published studies examining the neural response of individuals currently experiencing binge eating, to low energy foods. Our objective was to examine the neural responses to both low energy and high energy food images in three emotive categories (disgust; fear; and happy) in BN and BED participants. Methods: Nineteen females with BN (n = 14) or BED (n = 5), comprising the binge eating group (BEG; N = 19), and 19 age-matched healthy control (HC)’s completed thorough clinical assessment prior to functional MRI (fMRI). Neural response to low energy and high energy foods and non-food images was compared between groups using whole-brain exploratory analyses, from which six regions of interest (ROI) were then selected: frontal, occipital, temporal, and parietal lobes; insula and cingulate. Results: In response to low energy food images, the BEG demonstrated differential neural responses to all three low energy foods categories (disgust; fear; and happy) compared to HCs. Correlational analyses found a significant association between frequency of binge episodes and diminished temporal lobe and greater occipital lobe response. In response to high energy food images, compared to HC’s, the BEG demonstrated significantly decreased neural activity in response to all high energy food images. The HC’s had significantly greater neural activity in the limbic system, occipital lobe, temporal lobe, frontal lobe, and limbic system in response to high energy food images. Conclusion: Results in the low energy food condition indicate that binge frequency may be related to increased aberrant neural responding. Furthermore, differences were found between groups in all ROI’s except the insula. The neural response seen in the BEG to disgust food images may indicate disengagement with this particular stimuli. In the high energy food condition, results demonstrate that neural activity in BN and BED patients may decrease in response to high energy foods, suggesting disengagement with foods that may be more consistent with those consumed during a binge eating episode.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number687849
    Pages (from-to)1-13
    Number of pages13
    JournalFrontiers in Psychology
    Publication statusPublished - 21 Apr 2022

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2022. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


    • fMRI
    • bulimia nervosa
    • binge eating disorder
    • female
    • emotions
    • foods


    Dive into the research topics of 'Neural response to low energy and high energy foods in bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder: a functional MRI study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this