In this study, Ruddock and colleagues found that participants consumed fewer calories and showed greater dietary concern when they were given fake feedback indicating that they had a high tendency towards food addiction.
The researchers found that participants who believed they had high food addiction tendencies consumed significantly fewer calories than those who believed they had low food addiction tendencies. This was particularly the case for chocolate consumption. In a second study they replicated this finding, showing that participants who believed they had high food addiction tendencies consumed significantly fewer calories than those who believed they had average or low food addiction tendencies. They also spent significantly less time eating and expressed significantly greater levels of dietary concern.
Helen K. Ruddock, Paul Christiansen, Andrew Jones, Eric Robinson, Matt Field, and Charlotte A. Hardman
University of Liverpool, United Kingdom
The researchers manipulated participants’ beliefs about their personal food addiction tendencies (i.e., made them believe that they were or were not prone to food addiction). They aimed to assess the effects of this manipulation on participants’ eating behaviour (how much they ate, how long it took them to eat, and their levels of dietary concern).
Although the scientific community is still in dispute about the existence of food addiction, the general public often believe it to be a cause of overweight and obesity. Ruddock and colleagues point out that, so far, very little is known about the impact of believing oneself to be a food addict on eating behaviour. The idea of food addiction may be unhelpful because it implies a lack of personal control over eating behaviour. This has previously been linked to unhealthy food choices and greater food intake. However, it is also possible that food addiction may be a helpful concept: The sense of reduced self-control might help people to avoid tempting situations in the first place and thus consume less food. The researchers were interested in testing these two different possibilities.
In two studies, female participants completed a computer task that they believed would measure their addictive tendencies towards food and were given bogus feedback (fake scores) by the researcher. In the first study, participants were either told that they had low (30 participants) or high (32 participants) food addiction tendencies. The researchers then secretly measured how much food (chocolate and crisps / potato chips) the participants ate in an ad libitum (eat as much as you want) snack session. In the second study, participants were told they had low (29 participants), average (28 participants), or high (28 participants) addiction tendencies. Again, the researchers secretly measured how much food the participants ate. They also recorded how long it took the participants to eat and assessed how concerned they felt about their dietary behaviour.
ScientiFix tip: This study only recruited a non-clinical sample of female participants and the researchers acknowledge that there is a need to see whether the findings will extend to males and to obese individuals. In addition, as the study only focused on short-term effects, the researchers point out that future studies will need to explore the longer-term consequences of personal food addiction beliefs.