Background: Cognitive processes such as attention and memory may influence food intake, but the degree to which they do is unclear.
Objective: The objective was to examine whether such cognitive processes influence the amount of food eaten either immediately or in subsequent meals.
Design: We systematically reviewed studies that examined experimentally the effect that manipulating memory, distraction, awareness, or attention has on food intake. We combined studies by using inverse variance meta-analysis, calculating the standardized mean difference (SMD) in food intake between experimental and control groups and assessing heterogeneity with the I(2) statistic.
Results: Twenty-four studies were reviewed. Evidence indicated that eating when distracted produced a moderate increase in immediate intake (SMD: 0.39; 95% CI: 0.25, 0.53) but increased later intake to a greater extent (SMD: 0.76; 95% CI: 0.45, 1.07). The effect of distraction on immediate intake appeared to be independent of dietary restraint. Enhancing memory of food consumed reduced later intake (SMD: 0.40; 95% CI: 0.12, 0.68), but this effect may depend on the degree of the participants' tendencies toward disinhibited eating. Removing visual information about the amount of food eaten during a meal increased immediate intake (SMD: 0.48; 95% CI: 0.27, 0.68). Enhancing awareness of food being eaten may not affect immediate intake (SMD: 0.09; 95% CI: -0.42, 0.35).
Conclusions: Evidence indicates that attentive eating is likely to influence food intake, and incorporation of attentive-eating principles into interventions provides a novel approach to aid weight loss and maintenance without the need for conscious calorie counting.