Effects of distraction and focused attention on actual and perceived food intake in females with non-clinical eating psychopathology

Appetite. 2011 Apr;56(2):350-6. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2010.12.018. Epub 2010 Dec 24.


The aim of this study was to determine the effects of distraction and focused attention on both food intake and accuracy of perceived intake in women with non-clinical levels of disordered eating. In a laboratory study, twenty-seven young women consumed three identical pasta meals once a week for three consecutive weeks. Meals were eaten ad libitum during a control and two test conditions, in which attention was either diverted away from (distraction condition) or directed towards food-related stimuli (focused attention condition). They also completed the drive for thinness, bulimia and body dissatisfaction subscales of the Eating Disorders Inventory-2. Intake was significantly higher in the distraction than in the control or focused attention conditions, but was not related to eating psychopathology. A measure of accuracy of perceived intake indicated that drive for thinness was associated with overestimation of food intake in the focused attention condition. This study suggests that distraction could promote food intake in all non-clinical consumers, irrespective of individual differences in eating behaviours. Furthermore, it suggests that those with a high drive for thinness may overestimate intake when required to focus on their food. These findings could have implications for mealtime interventions in the treatment of eating disorders.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Bulimia / psychology
  • Energy Intake*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Food
  • Humans
  • Hunger
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • Thinness / psychology
  • Young Adult