How do I control my cravings for food

IFB Obesity Diseases

April 23, 2018

Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in adults. It is characterized by uncontrollable binge eating and is therefore often associated with obesity. The neurofeedback treatment study (NIRSBED) headed by Prof. Anja Hilbert aims to alleviate the symptoms over the long term.

According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), around 1.9% of all adults suffer from binge eating disorder (BES). Those affected report recurring binge eating. A binge eating is defined as eating an unusually large amount, accompanied by a feeling of loss of control. In contrast to other eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa (eating-vomiting addiction), extreme measures to prevent weight gain are not used. That is, "binge eaters" differ in that they neither induce vomiting after an eating attack nor fast for long periods of time, nor do they exercise excessively in order to burn calories. BES is also associated with pronounced difficulties in weight management. Therefore, many sufferers also suffer from obesity.

It is believed that the aforementioned food handling difficulties are due in part to decreased impulse control. It is more difficult for "binge eaters" than healthy people to inhibit the impulse to want to eat. An example from everyday life: you decide to only eat three pieces of chocolate, but then eat the whole bar and more at once.

These difficulties in impulse control are also reflected in neurons, i.e. areas of the brain that are responsible for impulse control are under- or over-activated in connection with the BES. For example, in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies, patients with BES showed significantly changed activities in areas of the brain, which are related to the impulse control of food and reward stimuli. So far, impulse control has not been specifically treated in BES therapy, although it can be assumed that this improves eating disorder symptoms and promotes weight management. This is where the NIRSBED (near-infrared spectroscopy neurofeedback in binge eating disorder) study comes in.

To treat BES, the NIRSBED study uses neurofeedback training, which is intended to enable the test subjects to independently regulate their own brain activity in certain regions and thus increase their impulse control.

But how exactly does neurofeedback work? During the training sessions, the participants' brain activity is measured using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) or electroencephalography (EEG). The NIRS device illuminates the scalp and the upper part of the brain with infrared light. Since the oxygen concentration of the blood affects the type of reflected light, conclusions can be drawn about the oxygen saturation and thus about the brain activity in certain regions. Unlike NIRS, the EEG measures brain waves by attaching electrodes to the scalp and face. Each measured frequency range can then be assigned to different cognitive states (e.g. alertness, attention), although no exact areas can be assigned.

During a measurement of the participants' brain activity, food images are presented that promote appetite. A computer analyzes the data on brain activity in real time and provides the participants with graphical feedback in a simplified form (see Figures 1 and 2). The illustration shows whether the activity of the reward-sensitive and impulse-controlling areas has been successfully regulated. This feedback from brain activity (neurofeedback) is now intended to help find better strategies for impulse control in order to reduce the occurrence of binge eating or to prevent it entirely.

    Participation in the NIRSBED study has many advantages: Participants can take part in an eight-week neurofeedback treatment free of charge, the method is free of side effects, it is non-invasive and the treatment begins immediately, without long waiting times. If you have any questions or are interested in participating, please see “Participation in the study” for more information.

    Pia Schermaul