Background: Both obesity and eating disorders (ED) have been associated with reductions in purposeful, flexible goal-directed behaviour, and with an overreliance on more rigid habitual behaviour. It is currently unknown whether grazing, an eating style which is common in both conditions, is related to goal-directed behaviour. The current study therefore aimed to relate grazing to goal-directed behaviour in a group of participants with obesity with and without ED features, compared to a healthy-weight control group.
Methods: Participants (N = 87; 67.8% women, mean age 28.57 years), of whom 19 had obesity and significant eating disorder features, 25 had obesity but without marked eating disorder features, and 43 were age- and sex-matched healthy-weight controls, completed two instrumental learning tasks assessing action-outcome contingency sensitivity and devaluation sensitivity, as well as demographic and eating disorder-related questionnaires. Gamma and Ordinary Least Squares regressions were performed to examine the effect of group and grazing on goal-directed behaviour.
Results: Lower action-outcome contingency sensitivity was found in the group with obesity and with eating disorder features than in the group with obesity but without eating disorder features or in healthy controls. No group differences in devaluation sensitivity were found. A small but significant relationship was found between grazing severity and contingency sensitivity in the group with obesity and eating disorder features, such that increasing grazing severity was associated with less diminished contingency sensitivity.
Conclusions: There is some indication that in persons with obesity and eating disorder features instrumental behaviour is less flexible and adaptive; furthermore, within this group grazing may represent a goal-directed behaviour, despite unhelpful long-term implications of grazing.
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- eating disorders
- goal-directed behaviour
- compulsive eating