Obesity is largely attributable to excess caloric intake, in particular from “junk” foods, including salty snack foods. Evidence suggests that neurobiological preferences to consume highly hedonic foods translate (via implicit processes) into poor eating choices, unless overturned by inhibitory mechanisms or interrupted by explicit processes. The primary aim of the current study was to test the independent and combinatory effects of a computerized inhibitory control training (ICT) and a mindful decision-making training (MDT) designed to facilitate de-automatization.
We randomized 119 habitual salty snack food eaters to one of four short, training conditions: MDT, ICT, both MDT and ICT, or neither (i.e., psychoeducation). For 7 days prior to the intervention and 7 days following the intervention, participants reported on their salty snack food consumption 2 times per day, on 3 portions of their days, using a smartphone-based ecological momentary assessment system. Susceptibility to emotional eating cues was measured at baseline.
Results indicated that the effect of MDT was consistent across levels of trait emotional eating, whereas the benefit of ICT was apparent only at lower levels of emotional eating. No synergistic effect of MDT and ICT was detected.
These results provide qualified support for the efficacy of both types of training for decreasing hedonically-motivated eating. Moderation effects suggest that those who eat snack foods for reasons unconnected to affective experiences (i.e., lower in emotional eating) may derive benefit from a combination of ICT and MDT. Future research should investigate the additive benefit of de-automization training to standard weight loss interventions.