Eating disorders are biologically-based brain illnesses that are noted by changes in food behaviors, eating, and self-perception. Eating disorders are complex illnesses that often become increasingly severe.
Over the last decade, we have seen a new area of research take shape as investigators have studied the brain, personality traits that are mediated by how the brain is wired, and how the brain processes reward. Recently, fMRI studies have demonstrated differences in the experiences of reward in individuals with eating disorders compared to controls who have never had eating disorders as well as people who had an eating disorder but are now recovered.
These studies found that people with Anorexia Nervosa experience less stimulation of the reward pathways of the brain, while people with bulimia seem to experience more active reward pathways. Early research examining reward processing in individuals with binge eating disorders shows data similar to those with bulimia. Additionally, there is emerging research on the gut’s connection to mood and brain function that may illuminate our understanding of eating disorders.