A recent Study has revealed that Bulimic women react differently to Food cues under stress as compared to women without the disorder.

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterised by bouts of binge-eating followed by purging through forced vomiting, rigorous workout, or excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, etc.

Published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, the small scale study conducted by U.S researchers supports the idea that women suffering from bulimia nervosa may be using food to avoid stress and negative self-thinking.

"To our knowledge, the current study is the first investigation of the neural reactions to food cues following a stressful event in women with bulimia nervosa," says lead author Brittany Collins, Ph.D., of the Children's National Medical Center, Washington, D.C.

Bulimic people react differently to food under stress

The research was conducted on 20 women out of which 10 women were bulimic while the rest weren’t. All the women were provided with the same meal. An hour after eating, they entered the MRI scanner and were shown a set of neutral images, such as furniture, followed by photographs of high-sugar or fat-laden food, like ice cream and pizza.

Later, each participant was given an impossible math problem to solve – in order to induce stress. After dwelling on the math question for a while, the women re-entered the scanner and were shown a different series of junk food images. The participants were then asked to rate their stress and food craving levels.

Although everyone reported a similar level of increase and decrease of stress levels during the three tasks, the brain scans told a very different story.

The brains of bulimic women showed a lower blood flow to the precuneus (a part of the brain that is associated with self-reflection) when they were shown images of food. On the other hand, for participants without the eating disorder, the blood flow to this region of the brain increased.

To substantiate the findings, a second study was conducted in which 17 women with bulimia were assigned the same three tasks. The second study showed the same results, noted co-author Sarah Fischer, Ph.D., of George Mason University in Virginia.

People with eating disorders face serious stigma

'It's an important finding and helps to show that it is a disease and not a choice, which is key to reducing stigma and judgment,' explains Patricia Allen, nurse practitioner and the Executive Director of Nursing Services for Summit Behavioral Health in New Jersey, in a DailyMail report.

Recent studies suggest that as many as 8% of women have bulimia at some stage in their life. It can affect children too, although it is extremely rare, states NHS.

"While women are the most prone to eating disorders, especially bulimia, the disorder is not gendered specific. According to ANAD, up to 15% of people being treated for bulimia and anorexia are male," states a Healthline.com report.

Although the exact cause of bulimia is still unknown, various factors like excessive stress, low self-esteem, or history of abuse, etc. could trigger this eating disorder. Genetics are also a major factor of bulimia.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), U.S. Every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result of an eating disorder, adds ANAD.