The way people look at food gives a glimpse at their relationship with food. Just visually looking at images of high or low calorie foods can create conflict within for those with bulimic tendencies.
Individuals with bulimic tendencies will recognize high calorie foods over low calorie foods
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder where the individual is known to eat massive amounts of food in a specific time period with no self control; then regurgitating, taking laxatives, or performing other activities afterwards to purge themselves. People with bulimia usually have issues with food and their own bodies. This leads to abnormal eating patterns. Prior to bingeing, bulimic groups may have a different view on food because they are craving it and are about to go on an uncontrollable bender. This is a complex attention example.
Bulimia symptoms may be encouraged by the individuals own attention pattern to food
A recent study has shown that because people with bulimic tendencies always avoid eye contact and conflict with high calorie foods, this could be a factor that sustains their symptoms because they always have an inner battle within about eating. They had a group of individuals with bulimic tendencies and a control group of people with no tendencies. Pictures of high calorie, low calorie, and nonfood items were shown on a screen because of the device being used. Many studies have tested for the connection between eating disorders and attention, but this specific study tested this using an eye-tracking device.
The eye tracking device used in this study was a iView XTM Red-IV Eye Tracking System that records the eye movement of the person while looking 70 centimeters away at a 22 inch screen. This device measure dwell time, direction, and first fixation latency. These measurements were very important to the study to investigate the relationship between individuals with bulimic tendencies and food. In addition, this tracking device helped the researchers see what the participants eye pattern after the first eye contact of the food and continuously. The eye patterns were then analyzed and found that the group with bulimic tendencies has an attention avoidance pattern when it comes to high calorie foods.
The results of the study found that fixation latency, which is the time interval until the fixation of the picture, was quickest for the bulimic group. As for attention bias over time, the control group showed changes in time when looking at high calorie, low calorie, and nonfood items. This means there was continuous attention given to all items shown. People without bulimic symptoms feel more free to continuously switch their attentions back and forth from high calorie to low calorie. While the bulimic tendencies group showed no change. This suggested that the bulimia symptoms group did not allot attention to high calorie foods and instead avoided looking at it for a long period of time.
Though high calorie food is found quicker, the bulimic groups avoids it afterwards
This quick reaction and avoidance of high calorie foods supports the idea that people who suffer from bulimia nervosa have attention bias when food is involved. Other studies as well have suggested that people with eating disorders have thoughts on food that have been affected in some way by attentional biases. This bias towards high calorie foods may be because to some degree the person has a strong urge to eat that food. This reaction can also be seen in this study where photos of high calorie foods showed great arousal in people who have bulimia. Their reward system is sensitive to even images.
While they reacted quickly to food cues, the bulimic tendencies group view the cue much shorter than the other stimuli. This result indicates that people with bulimia quickly avoid looking at the stimuli as a way to repress their binge. Researchers in this study found this attention pattern to be past alcoholics because they consciously want the stimuli but know that it is harmful to them.
This eye tracking device is very useful in trying to accurately track the participants' eyes and measuring attention bias. The awareness of high calorie foods of the bulimic tendencies group hints of their self-promoting conflict with food. Individuals with bulimia have a complex relationship with food. More insight is given when their attention tendencies are shown.