Skip to main content

Restrained Eating and Food Cues: Recent Findings and Conclusions


Purpose of Review

The purposes of the present review are to organize the recent literature on the effects of food cues on restrained and unrestrained eaters and to determine current directions in such work.

Recent Findings

Research over the last several years involves both replicating the work showing that restrained eaters respond to attractive food cues by eating more but unrestrained eaters show less responsiveness and extending this work to examine the mechanisms that might underlie this differential responsiveness. Labeling a food as healthy encourages more eating by restrained eaters, while diet-priming cues seem to curtail their consumption even in the face of attractive food cues. Work on cognitive responses indicates that restrained (but not unrestrained) eaters have both attention and memory biases toward food cues.


Restrained eaters attend more strongly to food- and diet-related cues than do unrestrained eaters, as evidenced in both their eating behavior and their attention and memory responses to such cues. These effects interact with expectations and manner of presentation of such cues. What remains to be understood is the meaning and mechanism of the attention bias toward food cues in restrained eaters and the implications of such bias for overeating and overweight more broadly speaking.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance

  1. 1.

    Herman CP, Polivy J. Anxiety, restraint, and eating behavior. J Abnorm Psychol. 1975;84:666–72.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Herman CP, Polivy J. External cues in the control of food intake in humans: the sensory-normative distinction. Physiol Behav. 2008;94:722–8.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Shimizu M, Wansink B. Watching food-related television increases caloric intake in restrained eaters. Appetite. 2011;57:661–4.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Veenstra EM, de Jong PJ. Restrained eaters show enhanced automatic approach tendencies towards food. Appetite. 2010;55:30–6.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Herman CP, Polivy J. The self-regulation of eating: theoretical and practical problems. In: Vohs KD, Baumeister RF, editors. Handbook of self-regulation: research, theory, and applications. 2nd ed. New York: Guilford; 2011. p. 522–36.

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Polivy J, Herman CP, Deo R. Getting a bigger slice of the pie: effects on eating and emotion in restrained and unrestrained eaters. Appetite. 2010;55:426–30.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Coelho J, Nederkoorn C, Jansen A. Acute versus repeated chocolate exposure: effects on intake and cravings in restrained and unrestrained eaters. J Health Psychol. 2014;19:482–90.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Van Koningsbruggen GM, Stroebe W, Aarts H. Mere exposure to palatable food cues reduces restrained eaters’ physical effort to obtain healthy food. Appetite. 2012;58:593–6.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Gravel K, Doucet E, Herman CP, Pomerleau S, Bourlaud A-S, Provencher V. “Healthy”, “diet”, or “hedonic”. How nutrition claims affect food-related perceptions and intake? Appetite. 2012;59:877–84.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Provencher V, Polivy J, Herman CP. Impact of perceived healthiness of food on intake: if it’s healthy, you can eat more! Appetite. 2009;52:340–4.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Lwin MO, Morrin M, Tang SWH, Low JY, Nguyen T, Lee WX. See the seal? Understanding restrained eaters’ responses to nutritional messages on food packaging. Health Commun. 2014;29:745–61.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Cavanaugh KV, Kruja B, Forestell CA. The effect of brand and caloric information on flavor perception and food consumption in restrained and unrestrained eaters. Appetite. 2014;82:1–7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Girz L, Polivy J, Herman CP, Lee HH. The effects of calorie information on food selection and intake. Int J Obes. 2012;36:1340–5.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Krahe B, Krause C. Presenting thin media models affects women’s choice of diet or normal snacks. Psychol Women Q. 2010;34:349–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Boyce JA, Kuijer RG. Focusing on media body ideal images triggers food intake among restrained eaters: a test of restraint theory and the elaboration likelihood model. Eat Behav. 2014;15:262–70.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Jiang M, Vartanian LR. Attention and memory biases toward body-related images among restrained eaters. Body Image. 2012;9:503–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Papies EK, Nicolaije KAH. Inspiration or deflation? Feeling similar or dissimilar to slim and plus-size models affects self-evaluation of restrained eaters. Body Image. 2012;9:76–85.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Fedoroff I, Polivy J, Herman CP. The specificity of restrained versus unrestrained eaters’ responses to food cues: general desire to eat, or craving for the cued food? Appetite. 2003;41:7–13.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Kemps E, Herman CP, Hollitt S, Polivy J, Prichard I, Tiggemann M. The role of expectations in the effect of food cue exposure on intake. Appetite. 2016;103:259–64.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Fishbach A, Zheng Y, Trope Y. Counteractive evaluation: asymmetric shifts in the implicit value of conflicting motivations. J Exp Soc Psychol. 2010;46:29–38.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Papies EK, Hamstra P. Goal priming and eating behavior: enhancing self-regulation by environmental cues. Health Psychol. 2010;29:384–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Buckland NJ, Finlayson G, Hetherington M. Pre-exposure to diet-congruent food reduces energy intake in restrained dieting women. Eat Behav. 2013;14:249–54.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    • Buckland NJ, Finlayson G, Edge R, Hetherington M. Resistance reminders: dieters reduce energy intake after exposure to diet-congruent food images compared to control non-food images. Appetite. 2014;73:189–96. Demonstrates that the usual increased eating by dieters exposed to food cues can be curtailed by diet-related food images.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Kemps E, Herman CP, Hollitt S, Polivy J, Prichard I, Tiggemann M. Contextual cue exposure effects on food intake in restrained eaters. Physiol Behav. 2016;167:71–5.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Minas RK, Poor M, Dennis AR, Bartelt VL. A prime a day keeps calories away: the effects of supraliminal priming on food consumption and the moderating role of gender and eating restraint. Appetite. 2016;105:494–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    • Herman CP, Polivy J, Pliner P, Vartanian LR. Mechanisms underlying the portion-size effect. Physiol Behav. 2015;144:129–36. A theoretical review discussing the underlying mechanisms for the well-documented portion size effect, and presenting more convincing alternatives to the prevailing “appropriateness” view.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Holden SS, Zlatevska N. The partitioning paradox: the big bite around small packages. Int J Res Mark. 2015;32:230–3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Versluis I, Papies EK. Eating less from bigger packs: preventing the pack size effect with diet primes. Appetite. 2016;100:70–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Hollitt S, Kemps E, Tiggemann M, Smeets E, Mills JS. Components of attentional bias for food cues among restrained eaters. Appetite. 2010;54:309–13.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Meule A, Lukito S, Vogele D, Kubler A. Enhanced behavioral inhibition in restrained eaters. Eat Behav. 2011;12:152–5.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Meule A, Vogele D, Kubler A. Restrained eating is related to accelerated reaction to high caloric foods and cardiac autonomic dysregulation. Appetite. 2012;58:638–44.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Neimeijer RA, de Jong PJ, Roefs A. Temporal attention for visual food stimuli in restrained eaters. Appetite. 2013;64:5–11.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Westenhoefer J, Engel D, Holst C, Lorenz J, Peacock M, Stubbs J, et al. Cognitive and weight-related correlates of flexible and rigid restrained eating behaviour. Eat Behav. 2013;14:69–72.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Higgs S, Dolmans D, Humphreys GW, Rutters F. Dietary self-control influences top–down guidance of attention to food cues. Front Psychol. 2015.

  35. 35.

    Werthmann J, Jansen A, Roefs A. Make up your mind about food: a healthy mindset attenuates attention for high-calorie food in restrained eaters. Appetite. 2016;105:53–9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Forestell CA, Lau P, Gyurovski II, Dickter CL, Haque SS. Attentional biases to foods: the effects of caloric content and cognitive restraint. Appetite. 2012;59:748–54.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Hotham S, Sharma D, Hamilton-West K. Restrained eaters preserve top-down attentional control in the presence of food. Appetite. 2012;58:1160–3.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Freijy T, Mullan B, Sharpe L. Food-related attentional bias. Word versus pictorial stimuli and the importance of stimuli calorific value in the dot probe task. Appetite. 2014;83:202–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Yeomans M, Brace A. Cued to act on impulse: more impulsive choice and risky decision making by women susceptible to overeating after exposure to food stimuli. PLoS ONE. 2015;10:e0137626.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    • Werthmann J, Jansen A, Roefs A. Worry or craving? A selective review of evidence for food-related attention biases in obese individuals, eating-disorder patients, restrained eaters and healthy samples. Proc Nutr Soc. 2015;74:99–114. A review examining whether obesity, eating disorders, and restrained eating are related to attention biases for food and if this affects food consumption, which concludes that motivations are also important influences.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Heatherton TF, Herman CP, Polivy J, King GA, McGree T. The (mis)measurement of restraint: an analysis of conceptual and psychometric issues. J Abnorm Psychol. 1988;97:19–28.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Houben K, Roefs A, Jansen A. Guilty pleasures II: restrained eaters’ implicit preferences for high, moderate and low-caloric food. Eat Behav. 2012;13:275–7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Storr SM, Sparks P. Does self-affirmation following ego depletion moderate restrained eaters’ explicit preferences for, and implicit associations with, high-calorie foods? Psychol Heal. 2016;31:840–56.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Ball CT, Singer S, Kemps E, Tiggemann M. Restrained eating and memory specificity. Appetite. 2010;55:359–62.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Ball CT. Involuntary memories and restrained eating. Conscious Cogn. 2015;33:237–44.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Soetens B, Roets A, Raes F. “Food for memory”: pictorial food-related memory bias and the role of thought suppression in high and low restrained eaters. Psychol Rec. 2014;64:105–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    • Stroebe W, Von Koningsbruggen GM, Papies EK, Aarts H. Why most dieters fail but some succeed: a goal conflict model of eating behavior. Psychol Rev. 2013;120:110–38. Presents a new theory to explain why dieters so often fail to meet their goals, proposing a model of conflicting goals for weight control versus eating enjoyment.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Kleiman T, Hassin RR, Trope Y. The control-freak mind: stereotypical biases are eliminated following conflict-activated cognitive control. J Exp Psychol Gen. 2014;143:498–503.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Janet Polivy.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

Janet Polivy & C. Peter Herman declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Additional information

This article is part of the Topical Collection on Psychological Issues

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Polivy, J., Herman, C.P. Restrained Eating and Food Cues: Recent Findings and Conclusions. Curr Obes Rep 6, 79–85 (2017).

Download citation


  • Restrained eaters
  • Food cues
  • Attention bias
  • Diet-priming cues
  • Eating behavior