Battling Bulimia: New Research Focuses on Brain’s Circuitry

Publish date:
Updated on

Bulimia nervosa is a complex eating disorder that often begins in adolescence or young adulthood.


“Primarily affecting girls and women, it is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating, followed by self-induced vomiting or another compensatory behavior to avoid weight gain,” according to the authors of a study published Monday in the Archives of General Psychiatry. “These episodes of binge eating are associated with a severe sense of loss of control.”

Rachel Marsh, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, studied impulsivity in women undergoing psychological testing. Subjects with bulimia nervosa responded more impulsively during testing, and brain scans showed differences in the areas responsible for regulating behavior.

Certain pathways between nerve cells, known as frontostriatal circuits, help us control voluntary behaviors. These circuits seem to be impaired in those with bulimia nervosa.

“We speculate that this inability to engage frontostriatal systems also contributes to [the] inability to regulate binge-type eating and other impulsive behaviors,” the authors write.

To expand on this hypothesis, future studies should include impulsive individuals who have healthy weights and eating behaviors, adolescents close in age to the time bulimia nervosa develops and patients with varying severity of symptoms, they note.

If you suspect you or a loved one has an eating disorder, seek professional help. For additional information, contact the National Eating Disorders Association. Also worth reading is Mommy, I’m Fat and Ugly, available in our Organic Health Article Archives.

Related Stories