Disordered Eating and Mental Workload

  • Ethan E. Hull
  • Jennifer E. Phillips
  • Dana L. Rofey


In the resource model of attention, the human mind is conceptualized as a limited-capacity information processing system. When “reserves” of mental energy are depleted, cognitive functioning and reactions to stimuli may be altered. Individuals with disordered eating may show delayed processing and increased mental workload pertaining to food-related stimuli compared with normal controls. Only one study has shed light on this area, and this research is summarized to provide a helpful overview for clinicians. Participants in this study included undergraduate females who completed an eating disorder inventory and craving questionnaire. The women rated the difficulty of receiving olfactory cues and performing a cognitive task (Disorder Salient Stroop) that utilized food and control words. It was hypothesized that women with more disordered eating symptoms would find the cognitive task more mentally taxing than those who scored lower on disordered eating symptoms. Also, among women who endorsed high cravings, it was thought that those high in disordered eating would report higher mental workload than those low in disordered eating. Lastly, for women who endorse high levels of neuroticism, those high in disordered eating would report higher mental workload than those low in disordered eating. Results showed that women who were high on disordered eating rated the olfactory and cognitive tasks as being mentally difficult, and that women high in neuroticism reported the olfactory and cognitive tasks to be significantly more mentally demanding compared with those with low levels of neuroticism. While neuroticism moderated the strength of the relationship between disordered eating and mental workload, food cravings did not moderate this relationship. Findings suggest a role for cognitive behavioral interventions in the treatment of disordered eating, particularly related to mental workload.


Eating Disorder Binge Eating Bulimia Nervosa Stroop Task Binge Eating Disorder 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



American Psychiatric Association


Binge eating disorder


Bulimia nervosa


Cognitive behavioral therapy


Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders


Eating disorder inventory


Eating disorder not otherwise specified


Eysenck personality scale-revised


Food cravings questionnaire-state


Labeled magnitude scale


NASA task load index


National Institutes of Health



The authors would like to thank the dieticians at the Weight Management and Wellness Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh for their valuable input with this chapter.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ethan E. Hull
  • Jennifer E. Phillips
  • Dana L. Rofey
    • 1
  1. 1.Children’s Hospital of PittsburghPghUSA

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