The Potential Role of Memory in the Development and Maintenance of Binge and Loss of Control Eating

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Binge and loss of control (LOC) eating are clinically significant symptoms that constitute syndromes characterized by a repetitive pattern of maladaptive and subjectively uncontrollable binge or loss of control eating. The hippocampal-dependent memory system appears to play an important role in the regulation of food intake in studies employing animal models. These findings may extend to humans, but research has been limited, particularly among vulnerable populations, such as those with eating pathology. Existing research suggests excessive energy intake and/or consumption of high fat, high sugar foods impairs performance on hippocampal-dependent learning and memory tasks, which in turn, is associated with excessive food intake and motivated high fat, high sugar food seeking behaviors. This vicious cycle may be particularly relevant to individuals with binge or loss of control eating, as persistent binge/LOC eating episodes are associated with several food intake patterns and individual difference factors that may strengthen the observed associations.

This study sought to examine the potential role of learning and memory in the development and maintenance of binge and LOC eating behaviors among a community sample of (N=66) young adult women, who either endorsed binge or LOC eating (n=35) or reported typical eating behaviors (n=31). Participants completed clinical diagnostic interviews, standardized neuropsychological measures of cognitive ability and hippocampal-dependent memory, self-report measures of eating behaviors, dietary intake of highly palatable foods, depressive symptoms, psychological functioning, autobiographical memory (general and eating event memories), and current mood state and hunger. Results revealed that participants who endorsed binge or loss of control eating performed worse on several measures of hippocampal-dependent memory, including measures of visuo-spatial learning and memory, verbal learning and memory, immediate memory, and delayed memory. Findings from the autobiographical memory tasks did not support our hypothesis, but provided insight into other factors, such as the potential role of emotion, in the study of autobiographical memory and LOC eating. The current study also did not find evidence to support the predictive utility of high fat, high sugar dietary intake on differences in hippocampal functioning, at least as measured in the current sample. Future research should continue to characterize and probe hippocampal-dependent memory among those with LOC eating, and explore possible differences in the visuo-spatial learning and memory system. Future research should also seek to overcome some of the methodological challenges in measuring dietary intake of high fat, high sugar foods, to further our understanding of the vicious cycle, especially among vulnerable populations.





Keeling, Lori Ann (2019). The Potential Role of Memory in the Development and Maintenance of Binge and Loss of Control Eating. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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