Antecedents and Mediators of Eating Bouts


  • Author's Note: Dr. Wansink is currently Visiting Professor at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. He is grateful to the Iowa State Extension Service for their support of this research. Special thanks also to Bruria Miron, Ellen Ziv, and Bonnie Shaw for their help in data collection and analysis, and for the reviewers who provided valuable input to this article.

For further information, please contact Professor Brian Wansink, Amos Tuck School, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755.


Understanding eating bouts is of both theoretical and practical importance. Two questions are examined here: (a) What stimulates eating bouts? and (b) What influences how much food will be consumed during such a bout? The results from a survey of 178 adults suggest that eating episodes in which a person consumes three times the amount of a particular food than he or she would typically consume are viewed as constituting an eating bout. These eating bouts can be stimulated by internal cues, such as moods or cravings, or by external cues, such as the visual or aromatic salience of the food. In general, eating bouts that are stimulated by internal cues are perceived as being less reasonable, less healthy, and less enjoyable, leaving a person feeling more guilty, lonely, and depressed. Furthermore, it was found that when an eating bout was stimulated by external cues, the food's nutritional value, versatility, and perishability influenced how much was eaten. In contrast, when an eating bout was stimulated by internal cues, these factors were not influential in how much was eaten. The educational implications of these findings are then discussed.