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Exploring food reward and calorie intake in self-perceived food addicts

Ruddock, Helen K., Field, Matt, Hardman, Charlotte A.
Appetite 2017 v.115 pp. 36-44
eating disorders, energy intake, females, high fat foods, hunger, low fat foods, overeating, risk, willingness to pay
Previous research indicates that many people perceive themselves to be addicted to food. These ‘self-perceived food addicts’ may demonstrate aberrant eating patterns which put them at greater risk of overeating. However this is yet to be empirically investigated. The current study investigated whether self-perceived food addicts would exhibit higher food reward and calorie intake in a laboratory context relative to self-perceived non-addicts. A secondary aim was to investigate whether self-perceived food addicts would demonstrate increased food liking and/or increased hunger ratings. Finally, we explored whether self-perceived food addicts demonstrate patterns of aberrant eating, beyond that predicted by measures of trait dietary disinhibition and restraint. Female participants (self-perceived food addicts n = 31, non-addicts n = 29) completed measures of hunger, food reward (desire-to-eat, willingness-to-pay ratings, and an operant response task) and liking for high- and low-fat foods. Participants completed all measures when they were hungry, and again when they were satiated after consuming a fixed-lunch meal. Finally, participants were provided with ad-libitum access to high-and low-fat foods. Results indicated that self-perceived food addicts consumed more calories from high-fat food compared to non-addicts, despite the absence of any between-group differences in hunger or overall liking ratings. Self-perceived food addicts also displayed higher desire-to-eat ratings across foods compared to non-addicts, but groups did not differ on other measures of food reward. However, the differences in calorie intake and desire-to-eat between self-perceived food addicts and non-addicts were no longer significant after controlling for dietary disinhibition and restraint. These findings suggest that self-perceived food addicts experience food as more rewarding and have a tendency to overeat. However, this may be attributable to increased dietary disinhibition and decreased restraint rather than reflecting a unique pattern of aberrant eating behaviour.