Search Blog

Sumati Gupta, PhD

Dr. Gupta is a licensed psychologist and professor at Barnard College, Columbia University. She specializes in the treatment of anxiety and eating/weight issues at Tribeca Psychology in NYC

Top Eating Disorders Treatment Information


When people who binge eat can't stop thinking about food

Given that food is a necessary part of our everyday life, it's natural to daydream about the next meal or snack. While some people think about food only minutes before eating, others are constantly preoccupied with food thoughts via planning, cooking, or needing hours to consume a meal. Such constant preoccupation can become frustrating. What happens when people purposefully try to suppress thoughts about food? A new study examined the relationship between binge eating and food thought suppression.

The study, conducted by researchers at Yale University, was released online this month in the journal Comprehensive Psychiatry.  The researchers asked a group of obese men and women with binge eating disorder to complete questionnaires about their eating habits and attempts to avoid thinking about foods.  

Usually when we try to avoid thinking about something, we do just the opposite. While you read the rest of this post, don’t think about a pink elephant – odds are high that you just visualized a pink elephant. That’s a classic psychology example and it’s interesting to think about how it applies to eating disorders.

In order to measure attempts at suppresing thoughts about food, the researchers used a specific questionnaire, the Food Suppression Thought Inventory. Sample items included:

"Sometimes I stay busy just to keep thoughts of food from intruding on my mind"

"I wish I could stop thinking of certain foods"

"There are images about food that come to my mind that I cannot erase"

Would higher levels of thought suppression be related to more frequent binge eating or a higher BMI? This wasn’t the case, according to the study findings. However, the sample was restricted only to obese people who engaged in binge eating at least twice a week. If we looked at a broader sample of people including adults with varied weights and different levels of eating disorder symptoms, we might see stronger correlations between food thought suppression and binge eating frequency or BMI. In fact, earlier studies did find such results (here and here).

Men and women in the study engaged in similar levels of food thought suppression. However, men (but not women) who dieted more as adults tended to suppress food thoughts more often. Barnes and her colleagues suggest that “the more time someone spends dieting, the more likely they are to report attempting to avoid food related thoughts over time.”

How do the study findings fit with what you’ve experienced or seen in terms of people trying to avoid thinking about food?


Have comments or questions? Discuss them on the facebook page or contact Dr. Gupta directly

Dr. Gupta is a professor at Barnard College of Columbia University and provides individual therapy at Tribeca Psychology

Stay up to date on the latest research: Follow the blog on twitter, like on facebook, or subscribe.


You may also be interested in reading:

Making strange mixtures of food when binge eating

How fasting affects women with bulimia differently from healthy women

How anxiety and perfectionism influence binge eating and dieting

Certain sugars may prevent your brain from feeling full

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

« Father’s age is related to the risk of an eating disorder | Main | Distracting yourself vs practicing mindful eating »