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Food for thought. The role of food-related cognitive-motivational mechanisms in dysfunctional eating

28 November 2011

PhD ceremony: Ms. E.M. Veenstra-Wijnen, 14.30 uur, Aula Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

Dissertation: Food for thought. The role of food-related cognitive-motivational mechanisms in dysfunctional eating

Promotor(s): prof. P.J. de Jong

Faculty: Behavioural and Social Sciences

Many people attempt to lose weight by following a diet. Most of them, however, do not manage to stick to their diet, and, in the end, fail and get seduced by “forbidden” foods. Yet, a small group is extremely successful in managing their eating pattern, namely anorexia nervosa patients. Commonly, they hardly eat anything, which results in underweight, and leads to several severe physical and psychological problems. This thesis investigated a number of mechanisms that possibly help people to stick to a diet or possibly just hinder people to successfully stick to a diet. We mainly focused on relatively automatic, “unconscious” processes. By using reaction time computer tasks we investigated whether “unconscious” processes could seduce us to eat unhealthy foods while we do not intend to eat these fattening foods. One of these mechanisms is the automatic tendency to approach or avoid food, which can be seen as an “unconscious” aspect of the motivation to eat.

The most important finding of this research is that the automatic tendency to approach or avoid food indeed seems to play a role in dysfunctional eating behavior. People with anorexia nervosa showed a weaker tendency to approach food, whereas people who often fail when they try to diet showed an even stronger tendency to approach food. This unintentional, automatic process can thus help to explain why some people are successful when they try to diet and why other people often fail when they try to diet. In the future, this mechanism could possibly be trained and be applied in treatment and/or prevention of eating disorders.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.40 p.m.

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