Reward-related processes are an increasing focus of eating disorders research. Although evidence suggests that numerous distinct reward processes may contribute to eating pathology (e.g., reward learning and delay discounting), existing etiological models of reward dysfunction tend to focus on only a limited number of reward processes, and frequently lack specificity when identifying the individual reward processes hypothesized to contribute to dysregulated eating behavior. Moreover, existing theories have been limited in their integration of reward-related processes with other demonstrated risk and maintenance factors for eating disorders (e.g., affect and cognition), potentially contributing to underdeveloped models of eating pathology. In this article, we highlight five distinct reward processes with theorized or demonstrated relevance to eating disorders involving binge-eating, followed by a review of two well-established risk/maintenance factors for binge-eating pathology. We then introduce two novel models of binge eating onset and maintenance that integrate these factors (i.e., the Affect, Reward, Cognition models), and discuss methods for testing each of the models in future research. Ultimately, we hope that the proposed models provide a springboard for the continued evolution of more precise and comprehensive theories of reward dysfunction in the eating disorders, as well as the development of novel intervention approaches.
Public Significance Statement
Eating disorders are associated with abnormalities in multiple domains of reward functioning. However, models of reward dysfunction within the eating disorders have not been well-integrated with prominent models of affect and cognition. This article presents two novel models of onset and maintenance for binge-eating pathology, which attempt to integrate observed reward abnormalities with other affective and cognitive processes implicated in binge-type eating disorders.