Despite being widely debated throughout the scientific community, the concept of food addiction remains a popular explanation for overeating and obesity amongst the lay public. Overeating is often accompanied by feelings of guilt and dietary concern, and this may lead people to attribute their eating to an addiction in order to minimise personal responsibility. Research also indicates that food addiction attributions and dietary concern may lead people to limit their exposure to tempting foods. To test these ideas, we examined the effect of perceived overeating on food addiction attributions and snack choice. Subjective ratings of guilt and dietary concern were indirectly manipulated by leading female participants (N=90) to believe they had eaten more than (overeating condition), less than (undereating condition), or roughly the same (control condition) amount of palatable foods in relation to their own estimated consumption and to previous participants. Participants then rated the relative importance of a list of explanations for their eating (including “the foods were really addictive”) and selected a snack to take home with them. Ratings of guilt and dietary concern were highest in the overeating condition, and lowest in the undereating condition, indicating that the manipulation had been successful. However, findings revealed no effect of condition on food addiction attributions. As predicted, participants in the overeating condition selected less tempting snacks than in the undereating condition. However, this effect was not mediated by guilt/dietary concern. There was also no association between food-addiction attributions and snack choice. These findings suggest that perceived overeating affects snack choice but not food addiction attributions. Future research should investigate whether food addiction attributions may be driven by feelings of guilt and dietary concern following longer-term disinhibited eating patterns.
Appetite – Elsevier
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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