Recent frameworks for understanding food rewards recognize the role of separable affective and motivational processes (liking and wanting) in driving human eating behavior. Separate assessments of liking and wanting may aid in understanding the complex eating-related behaviors seen in anorexia nervosa (AN).Objective:
The aim of this study was to examine separately liking and wanting for foods of different energy densities in women at different stages of AN and in healthy volunteers at both an implicit and an explicit level.Design:
Explicit liking and wanting responses to high- and low-calorie foods were derived from analog ratings, whereas an implicit “wanting” measure was identified by using reaction time in a forced-choice procedure. Explicit and implicit processes were compared across 3 groups of AN participants (current AN, weight-restored AN, and recovered AN) and healthy volunteers.Results:
Currently underweight AN participants explicitly wanted high-calorie foods less than did the other groups. Both current and weight-restored AN groups demonstrated significantly less implicit “wanting” for high-calorie foods and more implicit “wanting” for low-calorie foods—an inverted pattern to never-ill participants.Conclusions:
The aberrant responses to food that characterize AN may be driven more by altered motivational salience (“wanting”) than by explicit liking responses. This pattern of aberrant food reward appears to be independent of weight status. Examining the processes that motivate approach or avoidance of low- and high-calorie foods in AN may aid the development of targeted strategies to augment existing interventions.