Objective: Restrained eaters attempt to employ cognitive control over decisions to eat, which leaves them prone to eat in a disinhibited manner. This eating style is associated with elevated rates of smoking compared to the general population. The current study merged smoking and eating research methodology to investigate a mechanism that may underlie this association by testing whether a food prime, which has been found to elicit disinhibited eating in restrained eaters, could also motivate smoking as an alternative to eating.
Method: Using a randomized, 2-arm (Prime/No-Prime) between-subjects design, it was hypothesized that young adult female smokers who endorsed elevated dietary restraint and received a food prime would smoke more when given the option, compared to smokers who did not receive the food prime.
Results: As predicted, restraint score moderated the effect of the food prime upon smoking behavior (latency to first puff, β = 1, t = 3.8, df = 123, p < .001) and cigarette craving (β = -.79, t = -2.9, df = 127, p < .005), suggesting that after a food prime, restrained-eating smokers may opt to smoke to prevent further food intake.
Conclusion: This study identified a pathway, namely violation of dietary restraint, linking eating and smoking behaviors that may contribute to the population-based covariance between disordered eating and tobacco use.