Calorie deprivation impairs the self-control of eating, but not of other behaviors

Erin C. Standen, Traci Mann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objective: Sustained weight loss is difficult to achieve, and weight regain is common due to biological and psychological changes caused by calorie deprivation. These changes are thought to undermine weight loss efforts by making self-control more difficult. However, there is a lack of evidence showing a causal relationship between calorie deprivation and behavioral self-control. Design: In this longitudinal field experiment, we tested whether a ten-day period of calorie deprivation leads to the impairment of behavioral self-control. Participants were randomly assigned to either restrict their calorie intake or to continue eating normally for the study period. Main Outcome Measures: Participants were given a box of food and non-food ‘treats’ (i.e., chocolates and lottery tickets) that they were asked to resist until the end of the study. On the last day, researchers recorded the number of treats that remained for each participant. Results: Nonparametric permutation tests revealed that calorie-deprived participants ate significantly more chocolates than control participants did (p = 0.036), but that participants did not differ in the number of lottery tickets ‘scratched’ by condition (p = 0.332). Conclusion: This pattern of findings suggests that calorie deprivation impairs food-related self-control, but that this self-control deficit may not generalize beyond food-related tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychology and Health
Early online dateJun 18 2021
StatePublished - Jun 18 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Grant-in-Aid of Research, Artistry, and Scholarship from the Office of the Vice President for Research, University of Minnesota. The funding source was not involved in study design, data collection, data analysis, or in any other aspect of this project.

Funding Information:
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under grant no. (CON-75851). Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The authors want to acknowledge Dr. Nathaniel Helwig, who provided helpful guidance and consulting on the nonparametric analyses. In addition, the authors want to acknowledge the hard work of the many undergraduate research assistants who collected data for this study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Calorie deprivation
  • calorie restriction
  • eating behavior
  • self-control

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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