Towards a Translational Approach to Food Addiction: Implications for Bulimia Nervosa

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Purpose of review: In recent years, the food addiction hypothesis of loss-of-control eating has gained traction in the field of eating disorders. In particular, the neural process of food addiction plays a dominant role in the recently formulated “addictive appetite” model of bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Nonetheless, several components of the food addiction hypothesis, including the presence of withdrawal and tolerance effects, as well as the proposition that some foods possess “addicting” properties, remain highly controversial. In response, the current review synthesises existing evidence for withdrawal and tolerance effects in people with bulimia nervosa.
Recent findings: The recent development of a validated tool to measure withdrawal from highly processed foods will aid in measuring withdrawal symptoms and testing hypotheses related to withdrawal in the context of food addiction. We subsequently describe preclinical and human evidence for a central insulin- and dopamine-mediated pathway by which recurrent loss-of-control binge eating is maintained in bulimia nervosa.
Summary: Evidence in populations with bulimia nervosa and loss-of-control eating provides preliminary support for the role of food addiction in the maintenance of bulimia nervosa. Future longitudinal research is needed to develop a clearer profile of illness progression and to clarify the extent to which dysregulation in glucose metabolism contributes to food craving and symptom maintenance in bulimia nervosa.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent addiction reports
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Jun 2019


  • Food addiction
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Eating Disorders
  • Sugar
  • Dopamine


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