Bloomsbury Food Library - Psychology of Eating
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Psychology of Food

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Psychology of Eating

Psychology of Eating
by Leighann R. Chaffee

Faculty, University of Washington Tacoma, Tacoma, WA, USA Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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This course emphasizes the disciplinary lens of psychology to explore eating and our relationship with food. Theoretical perspectives in psychology, including biopsychology, human development, cognition, emotion, health psychology, and social psychology, are employed to explore the complexity of eating. Application of key concepts informs discussion of contemporary topics, such as the potential for food addiction, nutrition in children, stress, and self-regulation.

Learning objectives

Upon completion of the course, students should be able to:

  1. Contextualize psychological theories and methodologies within food studies.

  2. Apply key concepts and psychological processes responsible for regulating our eating habits and activities, for example behaviorism and conditioning, cognition, development, and self-regulation.

  3. Identify research methods in food studies and demonstrate critical analysis of research findings regarding the psychology of eating. Assess research claims for generalizability, validity, and implications.

  4. Explain the etiology, features, and treatment of disordered eating and obesity from the perspective of the psychology of eating.

  5. Develop awareness of the role of psychology in our modern food environment, including the interaction of psychological, cultural, and social forces that drive consumption.

Unit Outline

This eight-module lesson plan is intended for a full semester or academic term. The content is aimed toward graduate students in psychology, food studies, health, and related disciplines.

Assigned readings, materials, and assignments are detailed below. Each lesson includes reading and discussion questions, referenced supplementary materials, as well as a homework assignment the instructor can assign before or after the lesson based on their own preferences.

The assessment options for each lesson are given below; an instructor may choose to use them in a variety of ways, such as an examination essay, writing prompt, or class discussion. The format of student-led discussions is successful with proper expectations. These are referred to as roundtables below with suggested topics.

  1. Place students into small groups (4–5), and assign each student a research article to summarize and present to their peers.

  2. The instructor should specify the presentation length (e.g., 15 minutes), and students should use a visual with the figures from the article.

  3. The written summary is a good chance to practice economy of expression through a three-page limit (<1000 words).

Assessment may include a research proposal in the form of a term paper (e.g., 2500–3000 words); see the steps built into course assessment options.

Lesson 1

Introduction—Research in the Psychology of Eating

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Miller, Jeff and Jonathan Deutsch. 2009. Food Studies: An introduction to Research Methods. Bloomsbury Food Library. DOI: 10.5040/9781350047679

Chapter 2: “What Is Research” (pp. 11–32) DOI: 10.5040/9781350047679-ch-002

Chapter 6: “Quantitative Methods in Food Studies Research” (pp. 101–130) DOI: 10.5040/9781350047679-ch-006

Chapter 7: “Observational Methods in Food Studies Research” (pp. 137–170) DOI: 10.5040/9781350047679-ch-007

Discussion questions

Miller and Deutsch: Design a research question involving psychology of food (e.g., Do people eat out more than before?); compare strengths and limitations of studying this question through methods of inquiry.


Ways of knowing: Locate three claims or findings from the Psychology of Eating—one empirical and quantitative, one qualitative, and one from pop psychology or pseudoscience.

Lesson 2

Biopsychology of Eating

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Blundell, John, Michelle Dalton, and Graham Finlayson. 2013. “Appetite and Satiety—A Psychobiological Approach.” In The Handbook of Food Research. Bloomsbury Food Library. DOI 10.5040/9781350042261-ch-0017.

Masih, T., J.A. Dimmock, E.S. Epel, and K.J. Guelfi. 2017. “Stress- induced Eating and the Relaxation Response as a Potential Antidote: A Review and Hypothesis.” Appetite 118: 136–143.

Discussion questions

Blundell et al.: Does homeostasis prevent obesity? Describe three reasons we are prone to overconsumption of food.

Masih et al.: How should researchers in feeding behavior and eating disorders account for stress in their work? Consider the role of stress from the perspective of a clinician—how does this information inform their practice?


Roundtable preparation: Reward

Assign research articles on food reward and addiction.

Lesson 3

Sensation and Perception

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Spence, Charles. 2016. “The Neuroscience of Flavor.” In Food and Museums, Nina Levent and Irina D. Mihalache. Bloomsbury Food Library. DOI: 10.5040/

Spence, Charles. 2016. “The Art and Science of Plating.” In Food and Nina Levent and Irina D. Mihalache. Bloomsbury Food Library. DOI: 10.5040/

Balesco, Warren. 2008. “Identity: Are We What We Eat?” In Food: The Key Concepts. Bloomsbury Food Library. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042148-ch-002.

Discussion questions

Spence: Describe three recommendations for plating and the conclusions we can draw about the psychology of aesthetics. How might you employ this information in your own home?

Balesco: How do food chains and brands capitalize on memory to drive consumption?


Define cuisine; describe the key components of a specific cuisine (Food Library World Map).

Lesson 4

Eating and Human Development

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Birch, L.L. and Stephanie L. Anzman. 2010. “Learning to Eat in an Obesigenic Environment: A Developmental Systems Perspective on Childhood Obesity.” Child Development Perspectives 4, no. 2: 138–143.

Simeon, Donald T. and Sally M. Grantham-McGregor. 2000. “Nutrition and Mental Development.” In The Cambridge World History of Foods, edited by Kenneth F. Kiple and Kriemhild C. Ornelas. Bloomsbury Food Library.

Discussion question

Nutrition: Identify three specific public health recommendations based on the deficits.


Roundtable preparation: Lifespan development

Assign articles on the development of eating habits and preferences across age groups (e.g., prenatal, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood)

Lesson 5

Cognition: Memory, Preference, and Eating

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Rozin, Paul. 2000. “The Psychology of Food and Food Choice.” In The Cambridge World History of Food, edited by Kenneth F. Kiple and Kriemhild Coneé Ornelas. Bloomsbury Food Library.

Higgs, S. 2008. “Cognitive Influences on Food Intake: The Effects of Manipulating Memory for Recent Eating.” Physiology & Behavior 94, no. 5: 734–739.

Discussion questions

Review: Describe top-down influences on food choice (Lessons 2 and 3).

Rozin: Consider the use of categories in food selection—describe three reasons for categories and their interaction with preferences. How might food selection pathology present in different ways across groups (nationality, ethnicity, social class, etc.).

Higgs: Provide a summary diagram for the role of cognition, emotion, and memory in eating. How can memory be exploited or enhanced to influence eating?


Apply psychological processes such as cognition and memory to weight loss programs and obesity interventions.

Lesson 6

Emotions, Stress, and Self-regulation

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Macht, M. 2008. “How Emotions Affect Eating: A Five-way Model.” Appetite 50, no. 1: 1–11.

Teixeira, P.J. et al. 2011, “Why We Eat What We Eat: The Role of Autonomous Motivation in Eating Behavior Regulation.” Nutrition Bulletin 36: 102–107

Discussion questions

Macht: Describe the relationship between cognition and emotion in regulation of eating. Present applications for research or clinical settings.

Teixeira: What are the practical implications of the self-regulatory processes in eating? Identify limitations of this perspective.


How does the contemporary world impact emotions, self-regulation, and well-being? Describe outcomes in the industrialized world (Cargill).

Lesson 7

Body Image and Eating Disorders

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Cargill, Kima. 2015. “Binge Eating Disorder, the DSM, and Consumer Culture.” Psychology of Overeating. Bloomsbury Food Library. DOI: 10.5040/

Ogden, Jane. 2013. “Eating Disorders and Obesity: Symptoms of a Modern In The Handbook of Food Research, edited by Anne Murcott, Warren Balesco, Peter Jackson. Bloomsbury Food Library. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042261-ch-0027

Discussion Questions

Cargill: Differentiate overeating from binge eating and BED. Describe a biopsychosocial model for the development of eating disorders.

Ogden: How does the modern environment contribute to the development of disordered eating? Describe individual influences, including cognitions, development, and dieting.


Roundtable: Eating disorder treatment

Assign articles on a variety of eating disorder treatment modalities.

Lesson 8

Social Influences: Undernutrition and Overnutrition

Core texts to be read before the lesson

Gardner, Brian. 2013. “Access to Food.” In Global Food Futures. Bloomsbury Food Library. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042216-ch-012

Joseph, Maya and M. Nestle. 2014. “Food and Politics in the Modern Age: 1920–2012.” In A Cultural History of Food in the Modern Age. Bloomsbury Food Library. DOI: 10.5040/

Discussion questions

Gardner: Describe risk factors for food insecurity and barriers to improving food security across global regions.

Joseph and Nestle: Identify the role of psychological processes such as cognition and decision-making in food politics.


Describe food security. How might study of past famines and consequences inform food policy today (Messer)?

Assessment Options

Lesson 1

Research proposal: Propose topics and sources for literature review. Contrast strengths and weaknesses of various research methods.

Lesson 2

Diagram a combination of homeostatic and nonhomeostatic influences on food intake—return to this diagram throughout the quarter as you account for additional psychological processes. How will you account for the role of physiology in your research proposal?

Lesson 3

Describe the role of taste, smell, and other senses and stimuli in the process of flavor perception.

Lesson 4

Describe the major nutritional concerns in lifespan development, from conception to adulthood, including deficits and potential for overconsumption. Consider this information from a public health perspective, identifying at-risk populations.

Identify major sections of your research proposal and outline your paper.

Lesson 5

Humans use categories to simplify the world. Provide examples of categories related to food—for instance, popular diets, cultural or personal restraints, implicit versus explicit categorizations—and the potential limitations or problems of this simplification.

Lesson 6

Apply psychological perspectives to your research proposal—including cognition, memory, emotions, and self-regulation from Lessons 5 and 6.

Lesson 7

How does the media influence disordered eating (Rousseau)? How will you control for external and social pressures in your research proposal?

Lesson 8

Apply social perspectives to your research proposal—including geography, policy, and the more immediate social environment (Lien and Nerlich).

Further Reading

E-books in the Bloomsbury Food Library

Balesco, Warren. 2008. Food: The Key Concepts . Oxford: Berg. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042148.

Cargill, Kima. 2015. The Psychology of Overeating . London: Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781474267670.

Lien, Marianne and Brigitte Nerlich (eds). 2004. The Politics of Food . Oxford: Berg. DOI: 10.5040/9781350044906.

Murcott, Anne, Warren Balesco, and Peter Jackson (eds). 2013. The Handbook of Food Research . London: Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042261.

Rousseau, Signe. 2012. Food Media: Celebrity Chefs and the Politics of Everyday Interference . London: Berg. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042193.

Articles in the Bloomsbury Food Library

Draper, H.H. 2000. “Human Nutrition Adaptation: Biological and Cultural Aspects .” In The Cambridge World History of Food . Cambridge University Press. .

Gardner, Brian. 2013. “Access to Food .” In Global Food Futures: Feeding the World in 2050 . Bloomsbury Academic. DOI: 10.5040/ .

Nestle, Marion. 2000. “The Mediterranean (Diets and Disease Prevention) .” In The Cambridge World History of Food . Cambridge University Press. DOI: .

Parasecoli, Fabio. 2008. “Hungry Memories .” In Bite Me . Berg. DOI: 10.5040/9781350044616-ch-001 .

Prescott, Heather 2000. “Anorexia Nervosa .” In The Cambridge World History of Food . Cambridge University Press. DOI: 10.5040/9781474208710 .

Rousseau, Signe. 2013. “Nutritionism, Bad Science, and Spectacles of Disordered Eating .” In Food Media . Berg. DOI: 10.5040/ .

Enrichment Materials

Lesson 1

Chaffee, L.R. and C.L. Cook. 2017. “The Allure of Food Cults.” In Food Cults , edited by Kima Cargill. Rowman & Littlefield.

Lesson 2

Cargill, Kima. 2015. “Hyperpalatable Foods, Hormones, and Addiction.” In The Psychology of Overeating . Bloomsbury Food Library. DOI: 10.5040/

Criscitelli, K. and N.M. Avena. 2016. “The Neurobiological and Behavioral Overlaps of Nicotine and Food Addiction.” Preventive Medicine 92: 82–89.

Zheng, H. and H-R. Berthoud. 2007. “Eating for Pleasure or Calories.” Curr Opin Pharmacol 7, no. 6: 607–612.

Lesson 3

Scientific American. 2012. .

Lehrer, Jonah. 2007. “Auguste Escoffier, The Essence of Taste.” In Proust was a Neuroscientist . New York: First Mariner Books.

Spence, C. 2010. “Does Food Color Influence Taste and Flavor Perception in Humans? Chemosensory Perception 3, no. 1: 68–84.

Lesson 4

Birch, L.L. 1999. “Development of Food Preferences.” Annual Reviews in Nutrition 19: 41–62.

Schwartz, C. et al. 2011. “Development of Healthy Eating Habits Early in Life. Review of Recent Evidence and Selected Guidelines.” Appetite 57, no. 3: 796–807.

Lesson 5

Allen, J.S. 2012. The Omnivorous Mind: Our Evolving Relationship with Food . Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.

Benoit, S. C. et al. 2010. “Learned and Cognitive Controls of Food Intake.” Brain Research 1350: 71–76.

Lesson 6

  • See Cargill, above.

Lesson 7

  • See Rousseau, above.

Watson, H.J. and C. Bulik. 2012. “Update on the Treatment of Anorexia Nervosa: Review of Clinical Trials, Practice Guidelines, and Emerging Interventions.” Psychological Medicine 43: 2477–2450.

Lesson 8

Berthoud, H-R. 2012. “The Neurobiology of Food Intake in an Obesigenic Environment.” PNAS 71: 478–487.

Cruwys, T. et al. 2015. “Social Modeling of Eating: A Review of When and Why Social Influence Affects Food Intake and Choice.” Appetite 86: 3–18.

• See Library - E.g. Messer, Ellen. “Hunger and Famine Worldwide.” In The Handbook of Food Research. DOI: 10.5040/9781350042261-ch-0022.