of Anticipated Deprivation and Its Effects on Food Intake in Restrained
A Pilot Study
By: Bianca A. Reyes
This study was
designed to examine the effects of anticipated deprivation on food
intake in restrained eaters. Research has shown that the mere
plan of going on a diet can trigger overeating in restrained eaters
(Urbszat, Herman, & Polivy, 2002). The current study further
explores this proposal by examining whether the extent of disinhibited
eating is proportional to the length of the anticipated diet. A
follow up study was also done to investigate the effects of anticipated
deprivation on food preference in restrained and unrestrained eaters.
In response to health
concerns and cultural pressures, dieting behavior has increased
steadily in the United States over the past 40 years (Friedman,
Shwartz, & Brownell, 1998). With new Fad diets being
introduced to the public on what seems like a daily basis, it is no
wonder that this phenomenon has become a growing topic of interest in
the scientific community. Specifically, researchers have been
interested in understanding the psychological consequences of such
weight fluctuations over time.
Many studies have focused on
the disinhibition of suppressed or restrained eating in clinically
normal dieters. Even in a laboratory setting, dieters have
consistently exhibited what has been called counter-regulation—a
pattern in which they eat little amounts of food after no preload or a
small forced preload (thus maintaining their diets), but eat a great
deal of food after being forced to consume large, high calorie preloads
(Herman & Mack, 1975; Herman, Polivy, & Silver, 1979; Polivy,
1976; Ruderman & Wilson, 1979; Spencer & Fremouw,
1979).Non-dieters, by contrast, exhibit normal regulation in that they
eat much more food after no preload or a small forced preload than
after a large preload. It seems that , for the dieters, the
high-calorie forced preload triggers the overeating by ruining
the diet temporarily and unleashing the sort of vigorous eating that is
chronically restrained in the dieter.
Another theory that has been generated by researchers interested in
restrained eating, is known as anticipated deprivation. If
instead of the mere absence of a preload, circumstances dictate a
significant deprivation on future food intake, the paradoxical effect
of stimulating overeating in the present is theorized to occur.
A study done by Urbszat, Herman, & Polivy (2002) tested whether
anticipated deprivation—independent of anticipated dietary
violation—can lead to overeating in restrained eaters. The
hypothesis that restrained eaters that believed they would be going on
a weeklong restrictive diet would abandon their dietary restraint and
consume more food than would restrained eaters not anticipating a diet,
proved to be true.
The current study further explores the findings of Urbszat, Herman,
& Polivy (2002), by investigating the duration of anticipated
deprivation and its effects on food intake in restrained eaters.
Sixty-eight female undergraduate students from Saint Anselm College
were recruited as participants for this study. The subjects were
a mixture of student volunteers, as well as Introduction Psychology
students who received extra credit for their participation.
Participants were all females and ranged in age from 18-22.
Instruments were administered to the participants regarding the
nature and purpose of the study. A consent form was also
distributed detailing the rights of the participants (See Appendix
A). In addition, an intake demographic questionnaire was
completed which obtained information regarding the subject’s height,
weight, year in college, major, ethnic background, past and present
dieting history, as well as their current level of physical
activity. Participants were also asked whether they had ever been
diagnosed with an eating disorder (See Appendix B).
The Restraint Scale (Herman & Polivy, 1980) is a
tool used to identify retrained eaters, or those individuals who
attempt to restrict their intake of food in general, and/or of
“fattening” food in particular, but who are vulnerable to various
factors that disrupt such restriction. There are questions on the
Restraint Scale that assess or presuppose a susceptibility to engage in
disinhibited eating, or binge-like eating (Appendix C). On the
basis of previous research and for the purposes of this study, those
individuals scoring 15 or higher on the Restraint Scale were classified
as restrained eaters and those scoring lower than 15 were classified as
In the first study, participants agreed to take part in an experiment
investigating the effects of hunger on taste perception.
Sixty-eight female Introductory Psychology students as well as student
volunteers were administered a consent form, followed by the Restraint
Scale (Herman & Polivy, 1980). After the completed Restraint Scales
were scored, only those individuals scoring a 15 or higher were asked
to return for follow-up procedures. Of the total sixty-eight
participants that were originally administered the Restraint Scale,
thirty-five were classified as restrained eaters, and therefore asked
to return. Of the thirty-five restrained eaters that were
contacted, only ten of them ultimately took part in the study.
The ten restrained eaters were then randomly assigned to one of two
dieting conditions. All participants were told they would perform
a taste perception task and then return on another date to perform
Participants assigned to the weeklong dieting condition were told that,
immediately following the study; they would start a regulated diet for
seven days. These participants were shown a dieting meal
plan. The fictional meal plan was taken directly from Urbszat,
Herman, & Polivy’s (2002) study, the only difference being that the
title was changed to The Saint Anselm College Student Meal Plan (See
Appendix D). The meal plan was a low fat, calorie reduced diet,
which consisted of slim fast shakes and lean cuisine meals.
Participants were also informed of specific guidelines laid out by the
meal plan regarding which foods were forbidden to eat. The high
calorie forbidden foods included, chips, soda, cookies, ice cream,
fried foods, pizza, and popcorn.
Although participants were not actually required to
go on a diet, it was important for the study that the participants
genuinely believed that they would be requested to comply with the meal
plan for however long the duration of their anticipated diet before
returning to the laboratory. Due to the use of deception, this
study was reviewed by the Saint Anselm College Institutional Review
Participants in the forty-eight hour dieting
condition were given a slightly modified version of the previously
described procedure. Due to a number of difficulties presented in
the weeklong dieting condition, the participants in the forty-eight
hour dieting condition were given a less strict diet to follow.
In fact, participants in this condition were not given a meal plan at
all. Instead, the participants were instructed to only eat 2,000
calories a day and restrict themselves from the same “forbidden” foods
that the weeklong dieting condition participants were asked to.
The modification of this diet was done as a means to keep participants
from walking out on the study, which is what happened in the previous
condition, due to complaints of the diet being too strict.
Participants in both conditions were presented with
three plates of food, bottled water, and a taste-rating form. The
first plate consisted of Oreos, the second, chocolate chip cookies, and
the third, cupcakes. Participants were asked to rate each food
type based on dimensions listed on the rating forms (See Appendix
E). Subjects were then instructed to have as much food as was
necessary to achieve accurate ratings, which would provide a baseline
measure of taste perception against which to compare ratings after the
duration of the diet.
Participants were then given 10 minutes to perform
the taste-rating task. During this time, participants were
observed from behind a two-way mirror, and individual amounts of food
were recorded. When 10 minutes had elapsed, a manipulation check
was conducted by asking participants to rate the likelihood that they
would stick to the diet and how much weight they expected to lose
during the duration of the diet (See Appendix F).
After completing the study, participants were
thoroughly debriefed about the true purpose of the study and told that
they would not be required to actually follow through with any diet or
return to do another taste-rating task. The use of deception in
this study was explained, and all questions about the study were
answered. Participants were also given information regarding
counseling services offered through the college.
Twenty female undergraduate students from Saint Anselm College were
recruited as participants for this study. All of the subjects
were student volunteers who received no form of compensation in return
for their participation. Participants ranged in age from 18-22
and all were treated in accordance with the ethical standards set
fourth by the APA.
Instruments were given to the participants concerning the nature
and purpose of the study. A consent form was also distributed
detailing the rights of the participants.
The Restraint Scale (Herman & Polivy, 1980) as
well as a food checklist was administered to the participants.
The food checklist was created by the experimenter and consisted of a
list of foods provided by the Saint Anselm College Coffee Shop (See
Participants agreed to take part in a follow up study examining food
preference as a result of eating behavior. Participants consisted of 10
restrained and 10 unrestrained eaters who were recruited based on their
Restraint Scale scores collected in a previous study.
All participants were asked to imagine a
hypothetical situation in which they would be asked to take part in a
two-day water fast following the termination of this study. Based
on this information, participants were administered the food check-list
and asked to check off the foods they would most like to eat the night
before going on the diet. Participants were then debriefed about
the true purpose of the study, and all questions regarding the use of
slight deception were answered.
Sixty-eight female Introductory Psychology students as well as student
volunteers were originally administered the Restraint Scale (Herman
& Polivy, 1980). Of the total sixty-eight participants that
were administered the Restraint Scale, thirty-five were classified as
restrained eaters, and therefore asked to return. Of the original
thirty-five restrained eaters, only eight showed up to take part the
weeklong dieting condition. Of these nine participants, five left
the study because they did not want to participate in the anticipated
diet. When questioned on their motives for not partaking in the
diet, participants gave one of two answers: (1) “ I am already on a
diet and don’t want to have to change it” Or (2) “I play a sport and
this will interfere with my training.” The two-day dieting
condition yielded a total of six participants. The final number
of participants in each condition were as follows: weeklong-day diet
condition, restrained eaters, n = 4; two-day diet condition, n = 6.
Due to the small sample size, no statistical analyses were able to be
performed, however, a significant amount of qualitative data was
obtained. Ultimately, the results supported the hypothesis that
restrained eaters in the weeklong dieting condition would eat more in
the initial taste-rating than restrained eaters in the two-day dieting
condition, was supported. The four restrained eaters in the
weeklong dieting condition consumed a total of 19 ½ pieces of
food, while the six restrained eaters in the two-day dieting condition
only consumed a total of 14 ½ pieces of food.
When participants were finished with their taste-rating task they were
asked to fill out a final questionnaire, which served as a manipulation
check for the experiment. One part of the manipulation check
asked participants to indicate the extent to which they believed they
would be able to stick to the diet. On a Likert scale ranging
from 1-5 (1=not at all, 5=completely), the overall mean for restrained
eaters in the weeklong dieting condition (M=4.75) as well as for
restrained eaters in the two-day day dieting condition (M=4.16)
suggests that participants believed they would be able to stick to the
diet relatively well. Another part of the manipulation check
asked participants to indicate how much weight they expected to lose on
the diet. As expected, the mean number of pounds expected to be
lost by the restrained eaters in the weeklong dieting condition
(M=3.71) was slightly higher than the restrained eaters in the two-day
dieting condition (M=1.41). This simply shows that the
participants were realistic in their expectations of anticipated weight
loss. It only makes sense that a weeklong diet would yield more
weight loss than that of a two-day diet.
An independent t-test was used to compare the mean scores of
“fattening” foods consumed by restrained and unrestrained eaters.
Unrestrained eaters chose to eat less items considered “fattening”
(M=6.7, SD=3.43) than did restrained eaters (M=14.0, SD=4.44) when
anticipating a hypothetical two-day water fast (See Figure 1).
The results ultimately showed that there was a significant difference
between restrained and unrestrained eaters when it came to food choice
(t (18) = -4.109, p< .001; restrained eaters choosing the fatter
Ultimately, both hypotheses of this
study were supported. In the first study, it was hypothesized
that in an experimental situation in which restrained eaters were made
to anticipate a weeklong diet, more food would be consumed than by
restrained eaters made to anticipate a two-day diet. The results
were in support of this hypothesis, with restrained eaters in the
weeklong dieting condition eating a total of 19 ½ pieces of food
and the restrained eaters in the two-day dieting condition eating a
total of 14 ½ pieces of food. This seems to substantiate
the original assumption that disinhibition is proportional to the
length of the anticipated diet. In other words, according to
these results, the longer the duration of the anticipated diet, the
more disinhibited restrained eaters will be in their consumption of
food. Therefore, food consumption is dependent on the duration of
the anticipated diet.
In the Second study, it was
hypothesized that restrained eaters would choose high-calorie foods and
unrestrained eaters, lower calorie foods to eat when anticipating a
hypothetical 2-day water fast. This was supported with the mean
number of high calorie foods chosen by restrained eaters being 14.0 and
the mean number of high calorie foods chosen by unrestrained eaters
only being 6.7. These findings show support that anticipated
deprivation effects food intake in restrained eaters, however it does
not have implications for how the duration of anticipated deprivation
effects restrained eaters. There were some limitations to this
study which may have effected the overall findings. To begin
with, the sample size in the first study proved too small to yield
statistical analyses (n=9).
Many participants dropped out of
the study because they did not want to partake in the anticipated diet,
this finding was of particular interest due to the fact that the
opposite was found in a similar study done by Urbszat, Herman &
Polivy (2002); instead of participants refusing to partake in the
anticipated diet, experimenters were surprised at the amount of
participants willing to go on a diet for one week. Another
limitation has to do with the restraint scale itself. Researchers
have questioned the ability of the Restraint Scale (Herman &
Polivy, 1980) to truly identify restrained eaters. Other
measurements such as the Dutch Eating Behavior Questionnaire (Van
Strien, Frijters, Staveren, Defares, & Deurenberg, 1986) and the
Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire (Stunkard & Messick, 1985) have
shown to be more accurate in identifying restrained eaters.
Finally, in the second study,
the food checklist was designed only by the author of this study and
was not developed with the help of a professional. Future studies are
advised to have professionals unrelated to the research create the food
I would like
to begin by thanking my mother, grandmother, and aunt for their
unconditional support and love, without which I never would have had
the strength to finish this thesis. I would also like to take
this opportunity to thank all my friends, especially my roommates, who
were always able to put a smile on my face when I was stressed out.
There are a few friends in particular that I would like to say a
special thank you to: Meghan, thank you for always helping me to look
on the bright side-- I honestly don’t think I could have made it
through this without you; andHannah, thank you for being my partner
through it all--you made sitting through experimental much more
importantly I would like to thank my professors for helping me
accomplish an endeavor that at first seemed insurmountable.
Specifically, I would like to thank professor Finn for instilling a
sense of confidence within me. Without this self-assurance I
would not have been able to persevere and ultimately accomplish such an
incredible task. I would also like to thank professor Troisi for
introducing psychology into my life in a manner that was both
interesting and comprehensible, as well as for helping me develop the
origins of this thesis.
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