Autonomic indices and loss-of-control eating in adolescents: an ecological momentary assessment study

Lisa M Ranzenhofer, Soroosh Solhjoo, Ross D Crosby, Brittany H Kim, Rachel Korn, Sharath Koorathota, E Caitlin Lloyd, B Timothy Walsh, Mark C Haigney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Loss-of-control (LOC) eating commonly develops during adolescence, and it predicts full-syndrome eating disorders and excess weight gain. Although negative emotions and emotion dysregulation are hypothesized to precede and predict LOC eating, they are rarely examined outside the self-report domain. Autonomic indices, including heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV), may provide information about stress and capacity for emotion regulation in response to stress.

METHODS: We studied whether autonomic indices predict LOC eating in real-time in adolescents with LOC eating and body mass index (BMI) ⩾70th percentile. Twenty-four adolescents aged 12-18 (67% female; BMI percentile mean ± standard deviation = 92.6 ± 9.4) who reported at least twice-monthly LOC episodes wore biosensors to monitor HR, HRV, and physical activity for 1 week. They reported their degree of LOC after all eating episodes on a visual analog scale (0-100) using a smartphone.

RESULTS: Adjusting for physical activity and time of day, higher HR and lower HRV predicted higher self-reported LOC after eating. Parsing between- and within-subjects effects, there was a significant, positive, within-subjects association between pre-meal HR and post-meal LOC rating. However, there was no significant within-subjects effect for HRV, nor were there between-subjects effects for either electrophysiologic variable.

CONCLUSIONS: Findings suggest that autonomic indices may either be a marker of risk for subsequent LOC eating or contribute to LOC eating. Linking physiological markers with behavior in the natural environment can improve knowledge of illness mechanisms and provide new avenues for intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Medicine
StateE-pub ahead of print - 3 Aug 2022


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