Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Thesis defense Iris Duif (Donders series 548)

16 March 2022

Promotor: Prof. Dr. Roshan Cools
Co-promotor: Dr. Esther Aarts

Mindful versus mindless eating: The role of attention in neurocognitive processing of food reward

In the current obesogenic environment, we often eat while electronic devices, such as smart phones, computers, or the television, distract us. Such mindless, instead of mindful, eating is associated with increased food intake and overweight. However, the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms of this phenomenon remained unknown. In this doctoral thesis, these mechanisms were investigated by instructing participants to eat or make food choices while they were distracted, or while they increased mindfulness for their food. The results show that shifting your attention away from your food may affect how you process the taste, and whether you are able to make goal-directed actions towards your food. Some people seemed more susceptible to the effect of distraction on taste processing, and others to the effect on goal-directed behaviour for food. It must also be noted that evidence of whether our results translate to our more natural, home environment, is still lacking. Finally, increasing attention for your food by becoming more mindful of the food in front of you seems to change the way our brain responds to such rewards. However, we did not find evidence that this effect translates to improvements in eating behaviour or reduces weight on the short or long term. All of the above may help us in fine-tuning treatment of people with overweight or obesity to the individual.