Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017 Jun;42(7):1375-1389. doi: 10.1038/npp.2016.269.
Compulsive eating behavior is a transdiagnostic construct that is characteristic of medical and psychiatric conditions such as forms of obesity and eating disorders. Although feeding research is moving toward a better understanding of the proposed addictive properties of food, the components and the mechanisms contributing to compulsive eating are not yet clearly defined or understood. Current understanding highlights three elements of compulsive behavior as it applies to pathological overeating: (1) habitual overeating; (2) overeating to relieve a negative emotional state; and (3) overeating despite aversive consequences. These elements emerge through mechanisms involving pathological habit formation through an aberrant learning process, the emergence of a negative emotional state, and dysfunctions in behavioral control. Dysfunctions in systems within neurocircuitries that comprise the basal ganglia, the extended amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex result in compulsive eating behaviors. Here, we present evidence to relate compulsive eating behavior and addiction and to characterize their underlying neurobiological mechanisms. A major need to improve understanding of compulsive eating through the integration of complex motivational, emotional, and cognitive constructs is warranted.