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Meet WELL Center Assistant Research Professor Erica Schulte, PhD

September 29, 2021

Erica Schulte, PhD, is an assistant research professor in the WELL Center. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Kansas and her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan. Schulte completed a predoctoral internship at the Medical University of South Carolina and a two-year postdoctoral research fellowship with the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania.

Schulte’s program of research applies a cutting-edge perspective to understanding overeating and obesity by examining 1) which foods or food attributes (e.g., sugar) may be reinforcing in a manner that directly drives overeating, 2) whether core mechanisms of addictive disorders (e.g., withdrawal) may contribute to eating-related problems for vulnerable individuals, and 3) how food addiction may be a useful construct for individualized interventions. She has investigated these empirical questions using a multi-method approach, including neuroimaging, scale development, food consumption paradigms, and self-report.

Photo of Erica Schulte

Degree: PhD, Clinical Psychology, University of Michigan
Research Interests: clinical utility of food addiction as a unique phenotype of disordered eating, the addictive potentials of ultra-processed foods, overlapping mechanisms implicated in substance-use disorders and eating and weight disorders, assessment of addictive-like eating behaviors, treatment development for eating and weight disorders
Hometown: Kansas City

What did you do before coming to Drexel?

I was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania for two years.

What have you been working on recently?

I am writing a revision for a K23 grant, which is an NIH-funded 5-year research career development award. My proposed study will be the first to systematically examine which attributes of ultra-processed foods (e.g., sugar vs fat) may engage biological and behavioral reward responses that have been observed with addictive substances like alcohol.

What inspires you?

I have been inspired throughout my career by listening to individuals express significant shame about their eating behavior and body weight, because they attribute it to personal weakness or a lack of willpower. I am on a mission to help reduce and remove this self-blame by highlighting the direct roles that ultra-processed foods play in motivating eating behavior. These foods have been created by a multi-billion-dollar industry to be highly rewarding in a way that disrupts natural hunger signals and promotes cravings. I look forward to developing my research program to inform new clinical interventions and public policies that address the influences of the food environment.

What is your favorite thing about Philadelphia?

I moved to Philadelphia for my postdoctoral position at Penn two years ago, and most of my time here so far has been during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve been inspired to see how this city has rallied to support local businesses and neighborhoods. I also appreciate how Philly has a little bit of everything—the close-knit community feel, a renowned dining and entertainment scene and proximity to the beaches! It didn’t take long for me to feel at home here.

What is your favorite food or restaurant?

Speaking of local businesses, there are so many stellar restaurants in Philly! My favorite foods are fresh seafood, sushi and homemade pasta. I tried new local spots via take-out or outdoor dining throughout COVID-19, so I could write a very long list of wonderful restaurants I recommend. My top picks are Kensington Quarters (seafood), Nunu (sushi) and Fiorella (incredible pasta).

What would students be surprised to learn about you?

I’ve been skydiving and want to skydive around the world as I travel.