Restrictive eating across a spectrum from healthy to unhealthy: behavioral and neural mechanisms

Karin Foerde, Janet E. Schebendach, Lauren Davis, Nathaniel Daw, B. Timothy Walsh, Daphna Shohamy, Joanna E. Steinglass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background Restriction of food intake is a central feature of anorexia nervosa (AN) and other eating disorders, yet also occurs in the absence of psychopathology. The neural mechanisms of restrictive eating in health and disease are unclear. Methods This study examined behavioral and neural mechanisms associated with restrictive eating among individuals with and without eating disorders. Dietary restriction was examined in four groups of women (n = 110): healthy controls, dieting healthy controls, patients with subthreshold (non-low weight) AN, and patients with AN. A Food Choice Task was administered during fMRI scanning to examine neural activation associated with food choices, and a laboratory meal was conducted. Results Behavioral findings distinguished between healthy and ill participants. Healthy individuals, both dieting and non-dieting, chose significantly more high-fat foods than patients with AN or subthreshold AN. Among healthy individuals, choice was primarily influenced by tastiness, whereas, among both patient groups, healthiness played a larger role. Dorsal striatal activation associated with choice was most pronounced among individuals with AN and was significantly associated with selecting fewer high-fat choices in the task and lower caloric intake in the meal the following day. Conclusions A continuous spectrum of behavior was suggested by the increasing amount of weight loss across groups. Yet, data from this Food Choice Task with fMRI suggest there is a behavioral distinction between illness and health, and that the neural mechanisms underlying food choice in AN are distinct. These behavioral and neural mechanisms of restrictive eating may be useful targets for treatment development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1755-1764
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Jul 13 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Applied Psychology


  • anorexia nervosa
  • cognitive neuroscience
  • decision-making
  • fMRI
  • food choice
  • neuroimaging


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