PhD Position in Psychobiologica Impact of Semi-Starvation on Food Choices in Anorexia Nervosa

Catholic University of Leuven


This project is situated within the MIND-BODY research (MBR), at the Research group of Psychiatry, KU Leuven, Belgium. The MBR group has a longstanding expertise in stress research and investing biological markers of the positive and negative valence system in different psychiatric illnesses. The group is also closely linked to the University Psychiatric Center (UPC KU Leuven), facilitating access to patients for clinical studies. The PhD-student of this project will be directly supervised by Prof Elske Vrieze. She is co-PI of the MBR group and specialist in eating disorders.


Already during World War II, the famous Minnesota Starvation Experiment in healthy men showed that semi-starvation causes disturbed food desire, elevated negative affect, stress and disordered eating choices. We see this also in anorexia nervosa (AN) patients, where cognitive-affective processes (e.g. drive for food, positive and negative affect, and self-control through food-control) are severely impacted by underlying physical processes once patients reach a semi-starvation state. For example, Patients with AN do not detect strong signals for hunger and satiety and experience a profound sense of stress and anxiety for food, instead of experiencing pleasure or reward. These alterations in motivational and appetitive functioning make food choices highly stressful for AN patients and re-nourishment during treatment often a negative experience. This project investigates the role of biological mechanisms (eg. GI-peptides, microbiota, immune markers, nutritional state…) associated to semi-starvation, in stress sensitivity, cognitive-affective state and food choices in AN. Specifically we will investigating the relationship between these biological markers with two psychobiological endophenotypes involved in AN patients' aberrant eating habits: the positive valence system (positive affect, drive to eat and taste, resulting in affect-related food choices) and the arousal/regulatory system (eg. energy balance and stress arousal). 


We are looking for a candidate with the following qualifications:

1 Degree in Medicine, Psychology, Biomedical Engineering or related disciplines.

2 Experience in one or more of the following areas is desirable

  • Keen interest in human stress biology and neuroscience of food choices
  • Clinical skills and patient contact. 
  • Curiosity and ambition to learn new skills and techniques
  • Keen interest in statistics

3 Skill in one or more of the following areas is a plus

  • Strong communication and social skills. 
  • Analytical skills and well organized. 
  • Interested in teamwork. 
  • Ability to work independently. 
  • Dutch speaking


The successful candidate will be awarded a full-time  PhD position at KU Leuven and will be embedded in the MBR research groups. Currently funding is available for 3 year. 


For more information please contact Prof. dr. Elske Vrieze, tel.: +32 16 19 33 22, mail:

You can apply for this job no later than July 09, 2021 via the
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  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: July 9, 2021
  • Tags: Geneeskunde

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