Eating behavior style predicts craving and anxiety experienced in food-related virtual environments by patients with eating disorders and healthy controls

Eating behavior style (emotional, restrictive, or external) has been proposed as an explanation for the differences in response to food-related cues between people who overeat and those who do not, and has been also considered a target for the treatment of eating disorders (EDs) characterized by lack of control over eating and weight-related (overweight/obesity) conditions. The aim of this study was to analyze the relationship between eating behavior style and psychophysiological responses (self-reported food craving and anxiety) to food-related virtual reality (VR) environments in outpatients with bulimia nervosa (BN) and binge eating disorder (BED) and to compare them with healthy participants. Fifty-eight outpatients and 135 healthy participants were exposed to palatable foods in four experimental everyday real-life VR environments (kitchen, dining room, bedroom and cafe). During exposure, cue-elicited food craving and anxiety were assessed. Participants also completed standardized instruments for the study purposes. ED patients reported significantly higher levels of craving and anxiety when exposed to the virtual food than healthy controls. Eating behavior styles showed strong associations with cue-elicited food craving and anxiety. In the healthy group, external eating was the only predictor of cue-elicited craving and anxiety. In participants with BN and BED, external and emotional eating were the best predictors of cue-elicited craving and anxiety, respectively. 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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