Restraining from eating high calorie foods can influence the positive associations in consumers’ minds, according to two Dutch studies that could help inform measures and more research on healthier eating.
High calorie foods may be high in fat and sugar, and in the modern age of rife obesity consumers are advised to keep an eye on their consumption of such foods and ensure that their over-all eating habits are balanced.
However a team of researchers from Maastricht University in The Netherlands noted that dieters who try to actively restrict their intake may not be successful in keeping weight off in the long term. While it is plausible to suppose that restraining from certain foods makes they seem more desirable and hedonistic, the team found little direct empirical evidence to support more positive attitudes towards high calorie foods in restrained eaters compared to unrestrained eaters.
For their two studies the researchers recruited women on the internet, offering them a gift certificate in exchange for their participation. The first study involved 59 women with a median age of 31.44 years and median body mass index 26.07. The aim was to gauge whether restrained eaters differed from unrestrained eaters in the positive and negative associations of high calorie food, compared to low calorie food.
The participants performed two unipolar IAP versions, both of which revolved around six pictures of high calories foods labelled ‘snack’ and six pictures of low calorie fruits labelled ‘fruit’. In the unipolar positive IAT, positive attributes ‘tasty’, ‘delicious’, ‘good’, ‘delightful’, ‘heavenly’, ‘outstanding’ and ‘pleasant’ were paired with neutral attributes ‘average’, ‘undefined’, ‘general’, ‘normal’, ‘usual’, and ‘everyday’. In the unipolar negative IAT the neutral attributes were paired with negative attributes ‘tasteless’, ‘unsavoury’, ‘bad’, ‘nasty’, ‘awful’, ‘disgusting’, ‘unpleasant’.
The second study involved 63 women (median age 34.71, median BMI 25.39), also recruited via the internet with the offer of a gift voucher. This time the contrast with low calorie foods was excluded from the study.
In both studies the participants displayed no difference in their negative associations with high calorie foods. However they found that restraint did appear to magnify the positive associations with high calorie foods.
“The restrained eaters show stronger implicit liking for high calorie food compared to unrestrained eaters,” they concluded.
The researchers suggested two possible routes for future research into ways of preventing lapses in dietary restraint. One would examine the relationship with consumption
separately for positive and negative implicit associations, as negative associations may act as a protection against overeating. The second would look at whether cognitive control resources could be increased so that behavioural standards would govern behaviour, rather than impulses.
Appetite, article in press
“Guilty pleasures: Implicit preferences for high calorie food in restrained eating”