Exposure to diet priming images as cues to reduce the influence of unhealthy eating habits

Appetite. 2017 Feb 1:109:83-92. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2016.11.022. Epub 2016 Nov 18.


A key barrier to changing unhealthy eating habits is the current food-rich environment. Today, there are many palatable food cues that trigger unhealthy eating habits, and once a habit is strongly engrained, it becomes very difficult to change. This research examined the effects of diet priming that is a type of cueing intervention that activates a dieting goal in a tempting situation and thus reduces unhealthy eating behavior in line with the dieting goal. This research was conducted both in a laboratory and in two field experiments. In the three experiments, participants were randomly assigned to conditions where they were either primed by an image of a slim model associated with dieting (priming condition) or were presented with an image of an animal unrelated to dieting (control condition). The dependent variable was the number of snacks that participants took in the laboratory in Study 1 and the number of snacks consumed within the next two weeks in a daily setting in Study 2 and 3. The three studies showed that unhealthy eating habits strongly affect general eating behavior. However, in this research, diet priming changed the influence of unhealthy eating habits and resulted in the decrease of unhealthy eating. Exposure to diet priming cues moderated the influence of unhealthy eating habits triggered by palatable food cues in today's food-rich environment. These findings suggest that diet priming can change habitual reactions to temptations associated with unhealthy eating. Implications for diet priming as an intervention for unhealthy eating habits are discussed herein.

Keywords: Behavior change; Diet priming; Food-rich environment; Habit; Unhealthy eating behavior.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Psychological
  • Cues*
  • Diet, Healthy / psychology*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Repetition Priming
  • Snacks / psychology
  • Young Adult