A recent study released from the American Psychological Association revealed that the brain in women who suffer from binge eating is affected differently than those who do not associate with the disease, when exposed to stressful situations. The women were shown calm photos that were not expected to receive a reaction, followed by photos of high fat, junk foods. They were then asked to solve an impossible math problem in order to create a feeling of stress.
Once the participants felt inadequate and uncomfortable with themselves, they were brought back in to a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. At which time they were once more exposed to photos of food that would be expected to trigger a bulimic response. The scanner checked the women’s brains prior to and immediately after the stress experiment. It was found that when exposed to a stressful situation, women who claimed to struggle with a binge eating disorder had a decrease of blood flow to the precuneus part of the brain. Women who did not share the disorder had an increase of blood flow to the same area.
The precuneus is associated with a person’s thoughts about themselves. It is believed that an increase of blood flow to this area occurs when one is feeling self-critical. The decrease in blood flow in a bulimic’s brain shows an avoidance of self-reflection.
Both groups had reported an increase in food cravings after the experiment. However, those suffering from a binge eating disorder appear to use the longings to avoid the negative feelings that arose from the stressful situation. The lead author of the study, Brittany Collins, Ph.D., published the information in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
“Our findings are consistent with the characterization of binge-eating as an escape from self-awareness and support the emotion regulation theories that suggest that women with bulimia shift away from self-awareness because of negative thoughts regarding performance or social comparisons and shift focus to a more concrete stimulus, such as food.”
While stress has long been associated with binge eating behavior, there has been very little research into the why behind a bulimic’s response to such situations. The researchers duplicated the study and found the same to be true with the second group, confirming the first investigation’s findings.
All women experienced a reduction in stress when looking at the images of food. It was those who suffer from bulimia who actually appeared to avoid thoughts of self-criticism, however, when viewing the photographs. Psychologists previously theorized that food allows people to escape negative self talk and focus on something other than their own shortcomings. Collins feels that this study supports the long standing assumptions.
This is considered to be a preliminary study and the researchers are hoping for further experiments to confirm their evidence.
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