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Eating Disorders

Eating is controlled by many factors, including appetite, food availability, family, peer, and cultural practices, and attempts at voluntary control. Dieting to a body weight leaner than needed for health is highly promoted by current fashion trends, sales campaigns for special foods, and in some activities and professions. Learn more about eating disorders.

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For opportunities to participate in NIMH research on the NIH campus, visit the clinical research website. Travel and lodging assistance available.

Featured Studies

Featured studies include only those currently recruiting participants. Studies with the most recent start date appear first.

Acquisition and Utilization of Skills Using Innovative Smartphone Application for Regular Eating

Study Type: Interventional
Start Date: August 31, 2018
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Eligibility: Ages 18–70, Does Not Accept Healthy Volunteers

The study seeks to evaluate the acceptability, feasibility, target engagement, and validity of an innovative smartphone application with ecological momentary interventions to augment cognitive behavioral therapy for bulimia nervosa.

Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS)

Study Type: Observational
Start Date: March 20, 2018
Locations: Tucson, Arizona; Stanford, California; Wilmington, Delaware; Tampa, Florida; Bethesda, Maryland; Boston, Massachusetts; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Columbia, Missouri
Eligibility: Ages 3 and Older, Accepts Healthy Volunteers


PANS is an illness that comes on suddenly in children. The full name is Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome. It can cause sudden obsessive-compulsive behaviors. It can also cause children to suddenly restricte their food intake. Researchers want to learn more about children with PANS. They also want to learn more about the illness.


To study some disorders of behavior and emotion that start in childhood.


Children 3 14 years old who have had severe obsessive-compulsive symptoms or food restriction start quickly


Parents will answer questions. The topics include:

Their child s medical history

Their child s physical and mental health

Their family history. The focus will be on neurodevelopmental and psychiatric conditions. A family tree will be drawn.

Participants will have a physical exam.

Participants may take tests on paper or computer. These will focus on thinking, memory, and behavior.

Participants and parents will give a blood sample.

Participants will have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A strong magnetic field and radio waves take pictures of the brain. Participants will lie on a table that slides in and out of a metal scanner.

Participants may have photos or videos taken.

Participants may have other tests. These may include heart tests, sleep tests, and lumbar puncture.

Sponsoring Institute: National Institute of Mental Health

Target Engagement of a Novel Dissonance-Based Treatment for DSM-5 Eating Disorders

Study Type: Observational
Start Date: July 10, 2017
Locations: Eugene, Oregon; Austin, Texas
Eligibility: Females, Ages 18–34, Does Not Accept Healthy Volunteers

Most people with an eating disorder (ED) do not receive good treatment. The investigators have developed a new brief group treatment that is supposed to work by reducing how much women with an ED value the impossible thinness standard promoted by the media and how much they value/crave binge foods. The investigators want to test whether the treatment actually changes those two mechanisms using brain scan data, which is more objective than completing questionnaires and even interviews.

In the first phase of the study (R61), the investigators will compare women in the treatment versus those on a wait-list. If the investigators can show that the treatment "works" (does what the investigators think it does) compared to no active treatment (women will be allowed to seek and receive outside help but investigators will not provide it until after the wait-list), investigators will conduct the second phase of study (R33),where they will randomly assign women with an ED to either the new treatment or to a group treatment that represents what many college mental health clinics provide to their clients with ED.

Reward Systems and Food Avoidance in Eating Disorders

Study Type: Interventional
Start Date: November 30, 2016
Location: New York, New York
Eligibility: Females, Ages 12–18, Accepts Healthy Volunteers

The researchers plan to explore brain networks involved in emotion processing and learning using a brain scan and test meals. One core feature of Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is eating a small number of high-calorie or high-fat foods. By studying why individuals with AN are disgusted by food or other eating situations, the researchers will be able to understand more about the neurobiological pathways that lead to restricting food intake and food avoidance. This study also aims to find whether one of two short-term interventions (Interoceptive Exposure (IE); Family-Based Therapy (FBT)) affects connections in the brain and if the treatments affect food avoidance. IE is an intervention that helps reduce anxiety about eating. FBT is an intervention that motivates patients to eat through working with family to increase the value of eating and decrease the value of avoiding foods.

Neural Bases of Multiple Forms of Self-regulatory Control in Bulimia Nervosa

Study Type: Observational
Start Date: June 30, 2016
Location: San Diego, California
Eligibility: Females, Ages 18–35, Accepts Healthy Volunteers

The purpose of this study is to investigate areas of the brain responsible for self-regulation in adult women who have never had an eating disorder with women who have bulimia nervosa. More specifically, investigators are interested in changes in brain activation (e.g., changes in blood flow and oxygen use) when inhibiting responses and regulating emotions. Data collection will rely on a technology called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Microbiome-mediated Weight, Anxiety, and Stress Dysregulation in Anorexia Nervosa

Study Type: Observational
Start Date: April 30, 2016
Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Eligibility: Females, Ages 15–45, Accepts Healthy Volunteers

The purpose of this research study is to analyze the microorganisms residing in the gut of patients with anorexia nervosa. Research has begun to link changes in the intestinal microbiota with diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), asthma, and obesity, but although some studies have investigated the intestinal microbiota in overweight/obese individuals, very little is known about the intestinal microbiota in underweight individuals. The investigators aim to identify the enteric bacterial groups associated with adiposity, BMI, anxiety, and stress in patients with anorexia nervosa.

Neural Basis of Meal Related Interoceptive Dysfunction in Anorexia Nervosa

Study Type: Interventional
Start Date: October 31, 2015
Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Eligibility: Ages 18–55, Accepts Healthy Volunteers

This study aims to identify the brain regions responsible for encoding cardiorespiratory 'interoceptive' sensations and determine whether they are dysfunctional in individuals affected by eating disorders, anxiety, depression, or brain injury. By evaluating the same interoceptive sensations across different human illnesses, the investigators hope to provide convergent evidence resulting in identification of core underlying neural processes, and to discern relative contributions in each condition.

Improving Treatments for Bulimia Nervosa: Innovation in Psychological Interventions for Regulating Eating

Study Type: Interventional
Start Date: May 31, 2015
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Eligibility: Ages 18 and Older, Does Not Accept Healthy Volunteers

The purpose of the study is to test a novel, acceptance-based behavioral treatment for bulimia nervosa (BN) in adults. This treatment is a type of individual psychotherapy called Nutritional Counseling And Acceptance-Based Therapy (N-CAAT) that enhances existing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for BN by incorporating acceptance-based behavioral strategies and nutritional counseling to help patients eliminate BN symptoms.