The continuum model of the eating disorders proposes that eating disorders can be described on a continuous spectrum from restrictive anorexia to stable obesity. Previous studies suggested that emotional disturbances (depression, anxiety and alexithymia), cognitive impairments and distortion of body image are frequently associated with anorexia nervosa. However, obesity is mostly regarded as a weight management problem.
Aim: We investigated common deficits in cognition, emotion and body image underlying the pathology of the two extreme sides of eating spectrum (restriction and excessive eating).
Methods: Neuropsychological tasks assessed cognitive deficits; questionnaires were used to evaluate mood and explicit attitudes and Affective Priming paradigm to assess implicit attitudes.
Results: Neuropsychological tasks showed common deficit in attention capacity. Obese patients, both children and adult showed impaired shifting capacity and mental rigidity associated with frontal lobe based executive functions. Obese patients had difficulty in categorizing negative emotions (sadness), anorexic patients in treating happy faces. Obese group evaluated positively the overweight body on the implicit level. Anorexic group did not evaluate positively the ultra thin body.
Conclusion: Our results suggest that restrictive anorexia nervosa has several common features with anxiety disorder, while obesity can be associated most probably with addictive pathologies.