Deficits in episodic memory are related to uncontrolled eating in a sample of healthy adults

Appetite. 2018 May 1;124:33-42. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2017.05.011. Epub 2017 May 4.


Despite a substantial amount of animal data linking deficits in memory inhibition to the development of overeating and obesity, few studies have investigated the relevance of memory inhibition to uncontrolled eating in humans. Further, although memory for recent eating has been implicated as an important contributor to satiety and energy intake, the possibility that variations in episodic memory relate to individual differences in food intake control has been largely neglected. To examine these relationships, we recruited ninety-three adult subjects to attend a single lab session where we assessed body composition, dietary intake, memory performance, and eating behaviors (Three Factor Eating Questionnaire). Episodic recall and memory inhibition were assessed using a well-established measure of memory interference (Retrieval Practice Paradigm). Hierarchical regression analyses indicated that memory inhibition was largely unrelated to participants' eating behaviors; however, episodic recall was reliably predicted by restrained vs. uncontrolled eating: recall was positively associated with strategic dieting (β = 2.45, p = 0.02), avoidance of fatty foods (β = 3.41, p = 0.004), and cognitive restraint (β = 1.55, p = 0.04). In contrast, recall was negatively associated with uncontrolled eating (β = -1.15, p = 0.03) and emotional eating (β = -2.46, p = 0.04). These findings suggest that episodic memory processing is related to uncontrolled eating in humans. The possibility that deficits in episodic memory may contribute to uncontrolled eating by disrupting memory for recent eating is discussed.

Keywords: Disinhibition; Episodic memory; Executive function; Inhibition; Memory for recent eating; Uncontrolled eating.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Composition
  • Body Mass Index
  • Diet / psychology
  • Diet, Reducing / psychology
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Sugars / administration & dosage
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Fatty Acids / administration & dosage
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Dietary Sugars
  • Fatty Acids