Cognitive reappraisal of low-calorie food predicts real-world craving and consumption of high- and low-calorie foods in daily life
Reader, Shane W.
Lopez, Richard B.
Denny, Bryan T.
In an increasingly obesogenic environment, an individual's regulatory capacity to pursue nutrient-rich, low-calorie foods over palatable, energy-dense items is essential to maintaining a healthy weight and preventing the detrimental health risks of obesity. Cognitive reappraisal, the process by which one changes the meaning of a stimulus by altering its emotional impact (or in this case, its appetitive value) demonstrates promise as a regulatory strategy to decrease obesogenic food consumption, but little research has directly addressed the relationship between cognitive reappraisal of food cravings and real-world eating behaviors. Additionally, research examining self-regulation of eating has typically focused exclusively on diminishing cravings and consumption of unhealthy, high-calorie foods, rather than examining, in tandem, ways to strengthen (or, up-regulate) cravings for healthier, low-calorie alternatives. In the present study, fifty-seven college aged participants first completed a cognitive reappraisal task in the laboratory in which they practiced regulating their craving responses to high- and low-calorie food items by focusing on the long-term health consequences of repeatedly consuming the pictured foods. Next, for a week following the laboratory session, participants reported daily eating behaviors via ecological momentary assessment. Participants who reported greater up-regulatory success during the reappraisal task also reported increased craving strength for low-calorie foods as well as decreased consumption of high-calorie foods in their daily lives. Greater overall regulation success also predicted more frequent consumption of craved low-calorie foods. These findings substantiate the association between cognitive reappraisal ability and real-world appetitive behaviors, and suggest that future interventions may benefit from specifically targeting individuals' evaluations of low-calorie foods.