Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation

Eating Disorders


Are Your Chocolate Cravings Making You Unproductive?

Flinders Leading The World In Preventing Eating Disorders

Seeing Double On Eating Disorders



Are Your Chocolate Cravings Making You Unproductive?
First Published: ENews - April 2011

If you find it hard to concentrate without an afternoon snack, new Flinders University research has shown your craving for chocolate or other foods may indeed be sapping your brain power!

The findings by Associate Professor Eva Kemps and Professor Marika Tiggemann from the Flinders University School of Psychology may also point the way to how to deal with those cravings, which can pose significant health risks for some people by contributing to obesity or eating disorders such as bulimia. In addition, giving in to food cravings can elicit feelings of guilt or shame.

Research has found that when people crave a particular food, they visualise it. The strength of the craving is related to the vividness of the mental image of the food desired.

A study by Assoc Prof Kemps and Prof Tiggemann has shown that when subjects are imagining something, this visualisation takes up cognitive resources.

Participants in the study were asked to complete a series of cognitive tests while an unwrapped chocolate bar was nearby. A control group was not given the chocolate temptation.

The group who had the chocolate temptation nearby were found to perform simple maths problems more slowly and were able to remember less in memory tests than those without the cravings.

"Even small reductions in cognitive resources have the potential to compromise optimal task performance in many everyday situations,thereby reducing work efficiency or increasing the likelihood of accidents," Dr Kemps said.

"For example… reaction-time is vital in vigilance tasks such as inspecting items on an industrial production line or manoeuvring through dense traffic, whereas working-memory capacity is involved in a wide range of complex skills such as language comprehension, note taking, and following directions."

The study also found that by asking participants who had a food craving to picture a specific object or smell in their mind, such as a rainbow or the smell of eucalyptus, or by watching a flickering pattern on a monitor, they were able to reduce the intensity of the craving.

"Engaging in a simple visual task seems to hold real promise as a method for curbing food cravings," Dr Kemps said.

The researchers said these cognitive distractions might also be useful when treating people for alcohol and drug cravings or other addictions.


Flinders Leading The World In Preventing Eating Disorders
First Published: ENews - February 2010


The only eating disorder prevention program in the world to show long term success when trialled on early teenagers has just been released by the Flinders University School of Psychology.


Key elements to the eight-lesson program include a focus on the manipulation of images in the media, building self esteem, and teaching young people how to analyse and challenge media messages.


270 year eight students from four Adelaide schools received the Media Smart program as part of the 30 month trial. Before the program, and at regular follow ups, students were required to fill out questionnaires about shape and weight concerns, dieting, perceived pressures, depression and self esteem.


Evaluation showed a significant improvement in the way the students who received the program felt about their shape and weight over the 30 month period, as compared to the same number of control students who had not received the program.


Flinders Psychologists Dr Simon Wilksch and Professor Tracey Wade developed Media Smart to try to prevent the growing number of Australian adolescents engaging in dangerous eating behaviours.


“Eating disorders are associated with the highest level of mortality of any psychological disorders,” Professor Wade said.


As one of the world’s largest eating disorder prevention studies with the longest follow-up evaluation, Professor Wade said part of the success of the Media Smart trial comes from the program not including discussions of eating disorders.


“In the past, researchers have trialled a lot of other programs but they haven’t managed to decrease risk factors or show any long term effects. In fact, some studies have even found providing information to young people about eating disorders can be harmful,” she said.


The program is now available to purchase for individuals and schools from the Flinders University School of Psychology website. www.socsci.flinders.edu.au


Seeing Double On Eating Disorders
First Published: Southern Health News - July 2008
Updated: July 2011


Flinders researchers are investigating whether genes may play a role in adolescents developing eating disorders.

The three-year project is part of a larger six-year National Health and Research Council assessment of girls from the Australian Twin Register, and seeks to determine how specific psychosocial, biological and genetic factors work together to cause eating disorders in girls.

Research to date has revealed that nearly one in nine adolescents report a high level of importance of shape and weight, ie. the degree to which shape and weight influence the way they feel about and judge themselves as a person.

The frequency of disordered eating behaviours is significantly higher in this group; with girls almost 11 times more likely to go on to have disordered eating behaviours.

‘When a person has an eating disorder they think they’re only worthwhile if they can control their eating and weight,’ lead researcher Associate Professor Tracey Wade, from the School of Psychology, Flinders University said.

‘This compares with other people who gain feelings of being worthwhile through a broad range of areas such as their job, their personal relationships or the sport they play.’

The latest part of the research will look at whether certain genotypes make people more susceptible to developing eating disorders.

Researchers have taken blood samples from 699 twin girls aged between 12 and 15 years, and conducted a series of neuropsychological behaviour tests to examine their level of ‘flexible’ and ‘inflexible’ thinking.

‘We hoped to determine whether inflexible thinking, often referred to as ‘black and white’ thinking, is associated with eating disorders, especially if they come across a complex life event that has no easy answer,’ Associate Professor Wade said. ‘However, from this study we were able to determine a number of factors such as a feeling of ineffectiveness, and sensitivity to punishment, which increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.’

The blood samples are currently being assessed for a gene called 5HTTLPR. This serotonin-transporter gene can increase the risk of depression in people who face adverse life events.

‘This doesn’t mean that if they have the gene they will develop an eating disorder. We are investigating if it just increases their risk of developing an eating disorder when they face certain adverse life events,’ Associate Professor Wade said.

‘If we can determine which kids are more susceptible we can work with them to give them better life and coping skills.’

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