Theses Doctoral

Beyond Regret: Cognitive Strategies for Healthier Eating and Weight-Loss

Kanellopoulou, Eleni

This work was guided by the question: which ways of thinking can facilitate self-regulation in the domain of eating behavior change and weight-loss, and why? In Experiment 1 we found that a minimally induced focus on the food's health vs. taste value was sufficient to activate a healthy eating goal among female participants as observed in their food choices and consumption during a subsequent, seemingly unrelated, tasting task in the lab. In Experiment 2, we tested two explicitly instructed cognitive strategies for regulating overeating during the Thanksgiving holiday dinner and found that thinking of refraining from overeating as an act of care towards oneself was effective in helping participants limit overeating and dessert consumption, as compared to thinking of overeating as an act that the individual would later regret. Finally, in Experiment 3, we systematically varied the frame-valence (positive vs. negative) and time-focus (present vs. future) of a goal-directed cognitive strategy in order to investigate the unique contribution and interaction of these factors in rendering particular strategies effective in the context of self-regulation for healthier eating and weight-loss among both male and female participants. What we found was a time-focus by frame-valence interaction, such that, when focusing on future outcomes, a positively framed strategy (i.e. thinking of how healthy choices would eventually lead to reaching one's future goal) resulted in significant weight-loss and healthier eating over a two-week period, whereas a negatively framed strategy (i.e. thinking of how unhealthy choices would not lead to reaching one's future goal) did not. On the other hand, when focusing on present progress, a negatively framed cognitive strategy (i.e. thinking of how an unhealthy choice constitutes taking a step away from one's goal) resulted in significant weight-loss and healthier eating, whereas a positively framed strategy (i.e. thinking of how a healthy choice constitutes taking a step towards one's goal) did not. Current health communication policy in the United States and abroad is primarily focused on raising awareness about the future, negative consequences of unhealthy behaviors such as overeating - a strategy that we found to be ineffective and that previous research has found to be associated with harmful effects such as reinforcing the stigma against overweight and obese people. This thesis adds to the voices that question the advisability of this communication policy and instead proposes alternative, effective, ways of promoting healthy eating behavior.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Ochsner, Kevin N.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 7, 2020