The Great Disinhibitor: Alcohol, Food Cues, and Eating Behavior

  • Wilhelm Hofmann
  • Georg Förster
  • Wolfgang Stroebe
  • Reinout W. Wiers


Human eating behavior can be conceptualized as a self-regulatory activity by which individuals often strive to attain certain self-regulatory goals such as weight control or healthy food intake in the presence of competing impulsive influences triggered by tempting food cues in the environment. The outcome of such a self-regulatory struggle can be strongly influenced by external factors such as alcohol consumption. In the present chapter, we outline a framework for the various acute and chronic effects of alcohol consumption on the self-regulation of eating behavior. Acute effects include (a) the caloric load of alcohol itself which is typically not compensated for, (b) alcohol’s stimulating effect on appetite, and (c) its detrimental effects on self-regulatory capacity. Chronic alcohol abuse also appears to be negatively related to central executive cognitive functioning in the long run. We also discuss the role of alcohol expectancies as modulators of the physiological effects of alcohol. Furthermore, we highlight alcohol’s role in dysfunctional “vicious circles” of self-regulatory failure. Such dysfunctional dynamics may, among other factors, help to account for the observed comorbidity between alcohol abuse and eating disorders. Taken together, alcohol can seriously hamper the self-regulatory pursuit of dieting and other health-related goals, both in the short and in the long run.


Eating Disorder Palatable Food Alcohol Expectancy Restrained Eater Negative Expectancy 
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Blood alcohol concentration



Preparation of this chapter was supported by grant HO 4175/3–1 from the German Science Foundation (DFG) and by a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to Wilhelm Hofmann. Portions of this chapter were completed while the first author was a visiting researcher at Utrecht University. We thank Katie Lancaster for her valuable comments on a previous draft.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wilhelm Hofmann
    • 1
  • Georg Förster
  • Wolfgang Stroebe
  • Reinout W. Wiers
  1. 1.University of Chicago, Booth School of BusinessChicagoUSA

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