Background. Obesity is a growing health problem, but most people find dieting unsuccessful. Three studies examine possible reasons for the difficulty and the extent to which dieting-related reductions in cognitive function are associated with mood and well-being.
Method. In Study One, 49 female dieters were compared with a control group of 31 matched non-dieters on measures of well-being, mood, eating behaviour (Dutch Eating Behaviour Questionnaire), and attention. Study Two examined two measures of restraint to examine why previous studies find high restrainers are prone to react to emotion. Study Three experimentally manipulated mood using music and the standard Velten Induction Procedure to examine attention in restrainers and emotional eaters.
Results. Dieting was found to be associated with deficits in sustained attention. This finding was further supported by the demonstration of a significant impairment in performance following a negative mood induction in high emotional eaters whereas high restrainers were relatively unaffected by the mood challenge.
Conclusions. We suggest that different aspects of eating behaviour have dissociable effects on cognitive-affective function. Trait tendencies to restrained eating are associated with attentional deficits, but are not further affected by mood disruption. It is the long-term tendency to eat when emotional that combines with current emotional state to trigger cognitive deficits.