Impact of the neural correlates of stress and cue reactivity on stress related binge eating in the natural environment

Sarah Fischer*, Lauren Breithaupt, Joseph Wonderlich, Margaret L. Westwater, Ross D. Crosby, Scott G. Engel, James Thompson, Jason Lavender, Stephen Wonderlich

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Women with symptoms of bulimia nervosa (BN) exhibit decreased response to visual food cues in several limbic and frontal regions compared to controls. Stress causes decreased blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) response in these regions in non-clinical samples; there is a lack of data on this topic in BN. This study examined the impact of individual differences in neural reactivity to palatable food cues following acute stress on stress-binge trajectories in everyday life. 16 women with BN symptoms viewed palatable food cues prior to and immediately following an acute stress induction in the scanner. Participants then responded to a series of prompts assessing daily ratings of stress and binge episodes for a period of two weeks. Decreased BOLD signal was observed in response to food cues pre to post stress in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), amygdala, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). Ecological momentary assessment data collection demonstrated that stress increased prior to binge episodes in the natural environment, and decreased following. Changes in activation in the ACC, precuneus, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) significantly moderated the relationship of stress to binge eating in daily life, such that women who exhibited decreased response reported significantly increasing stress prior to binges, while women who did not exhibit decreases reported no significant change in stress prior to binges. Individual differences in neural response to food cues under stress appear to underlie distinct antecedants to binge eating.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-23
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Binge
  • Bulimia
  • EMA
  • Neuroimaging
  • Stress


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