The Role of Habits in Anorexia Nervosa: Where We Are and Where to Go From Here?

  • Blair UniackeEmail author
  • B. Timothy Walsh
  • Karin Foerde
  • Joanna Steinglass
Eating Disorders (S Wonderlich and JM Lavender, Section Editors)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Eating Disorders


Purpose of Review

The persistent maladaptive eating behavior characteristic of anorexia nervosa (AN) can be understood as a learned habit. This review describes the cognitive neuroscience background and the existing data from research in AN.

Recent Findings

Behavior is habitual after it is frequently repeated and becomes nearly automatic, relatively insensitive to outcome, and mediated by dorsal frontostriatal neural systems. There is evidence for such behavior in AN, in which restrictive intake has been related to dorsal frontostriatal systems. Other neural and neurocognitive data provide mixed findings, some of which suggest disturbances in habit systems in AN.


There are compelling behavioral and neural data to suggest that habit systems may underlie the persistence of AN. The habit model needs further research, via more direct behavioral hypothesis testing and probes of the development of habitual behavior. Investigation of the habit-centered model of AN may open avenues for the development of novel treatments.


Anorexia nervosa Habit Reward Cognitive neuroscience Eating disorders Frontostriatal 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Blair Uniacke, B. Timothy Walsh, Karin Foerde, and Joanna Steinglass declare no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major Importance

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Blair Uniacke
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • B. Timothy Walsh
    • 1
    • 2
  • Karin Foerde
    • 1
    • 2
  • Joanna Steinglass
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryColumbia University Medical CenterNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryNew York State Psychiatric InstituteNew YorkUSA

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