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The effect of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation on food choice-related self-control in patients with severe, enduring anorexia nervosa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1326-1336
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
Issue number8
Early online date20 Apr 2020
Accepted/In press13 Mar 2020
E-pub ahead of print20 Apr 2020
Published1 Aug 2020


King's Authors


Objective: Individuals with anorexia nervosa (AN) pursue low-fat, low-calorie diets even when in a state of emaciation. These maladaptive food choices may involve fronto-limbic circuitry associated with cognitive control, habit, and reward. We assessed whether high-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) influenced food-related choice behavior in patients with severe, enduring (SE)-AN.
Method: Thirty-four females with SE-AN completed a Food Choice Task before and after 20 sessions of real or sham rTMS treatment and at a 4-month follow-up. During the task, participants rated high- and low-fat food items for healthiness and tastiness and then made a series of choices between a neutral-rated food and high- and low-fat foods. Outcomes included the proportion of high-fat and self-controlled choices made. A comparison group of 30 healthy women completed the task at baseline only.
Results: Baseline data were consistent with previous findings: relative to HCs, SE-AN participants showed a preference for low-fat foods and exercised self-control on a greater proportion of trials. There was no significant effect of rTMS treatment nor time on food choices related to fat content. However, among SE-AN participants who received real rTMS, there was a decrease in self-controlled food choices at post-treatment, relative to baseline. Specifically, there was an increase in the selection of tasty unhealthy foods.
Discussion: In SE-AN, rTMS may promote more flexibility in relation to food choice. This may result from neuroplastic changes in the DLPFC and/or in associated brain areas.

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