Investigation of naturalistic food cravings: a two-week online diary study


  • S. Schumacher
  • E. Kemps
  • M. Tiggemann


Background: Using the Elaborated-Intrusion (EI) theory of desire framework, this study investigated whether two craving reduction strategies, cognitive defusion and guided imagery, could reduce naturally occurring food cravings and craving-related consumption in the field. Methods: Forty-seven female participants recorded their cravings and craving-related consumption in a two-week online diary, completed on their smartphones. In the first week, participants recorded their meals and snacks, and cravings as they occurred. In the second week, participants were randomly assigned to use one of the two craving reduction techniques, or to continue as in week 1 (control condition). Participants in the active conditions listened to audio instructions and practised either cognitive defusion or guided imagery whenever they experienced a food craving. Outcome variables were craving intensity (measured pre- and post-technique) and craving-driven consumption. Findings: Both the cognitive defusion (p < .001) and guided imagery (p = .009) techniques significantly reduced craving intensity from pre- to post-technique. Further, craving reduction resulted in less craving-related consumption following cognitive defusion, whereby participants practising cognitive defusion ate less frequently in response to their cravings (22%) compared with controls (51%, p = .039). Discussion: In support of EI theory, brief audio instructions for cognitive defusion and guided imagery reduced the intensity of naturalistic food cravings. Further, participants who used cognitive defusion were less likely to eat in response to their cravings. The online delivery of techniques such as cognitive defusion and guided imagery may provide useful additions to therapies for tackling unwanted cravings and consumption.





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