Research – InspireAngels

The Key to Interrupting Food Cravings: Crossword Puzzles

Crossword puzzles are one of the best cognitive strategies to use to interrupt food cravings as a means to improve destructive eating habits for individuals with eating disorders. Our friend Anna is having an intense craving for a bag of delicious Doritos however she just ate a full meal not too long ago. In spite of all that, the desire for those crunchy Doritos still lingers in Anna’s mind. Anna is stuck on what to do in her situation to calm these desires down. She tries every activity to distract herself from reaching into the kitchen to grab the last bag of Doritos that cry out to her until she stumbles upon a crossword puzzle in her drawer. She takes out the crossword puzzle and lays on the couch starting the puzzle as an hour goes by, she had forgotten all about the bag of Doritos she had initially wanted. As unbelievable as it might sound an example of a similar circumstance would be the case study done by Dr. Van Dillen and Andrade who observe patients that were sensitive to food consumption and discover that when those individuals use cognitive resources they “were no longer attracted by high-calorie foods.” Individuals with an eating disorder can enhance their metacognition using cognitive strategies, particularly by doing crossword puzzles frequently to improve their destructive eating habits and intense food cravings

Reaching for a crossword puzzle instead of a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos is an example of using a metacognitive strategy to avoid binge eating. To put it simply, thinking is cognition, while thinking about thinking is metacognition. For instance, metacognition involves interpretation, applying already known skills to the puzzle, having the awareness that our memory could be fading, the ability to move on to the next word when we get stuck on a constraint word box and intentionally examining our own thought process. We can use metacognitive emotional regulation to change our eating behavior. Our emotions can drive our behavior such as compelling us towards binge eating however we can take advantage of metacognition by being aware of our emotional state and taking steps to compensate them. When we use our understanding of how emotional states determine our actions it can reduce the influence on our behavior.

Crossword puzzles can distract our brains with a positive simulation to interrupt food cravings. In the article, “Active Learning: creating interactive crossword puzzles” Serna and Azor mention that a crossword puzzle is a form of active learning that can increase the motivation of the individual to generate positive feelings for folks. So instead of reaching into the freezer for the tube of ice cream because Anne is feeling sad, she could have a better alternate solution which would be doing crossword puzzles that could boost her emotions to a more positive one. This can include the satisfaction of successfully being able to fill one of the constraint word boxes to then be able to continue doing the following word or the determination to figure out the right word that fits just perfectly into the boxes that are given to us. A patient from the study case, “Thinking about internal states, a qualitative investigation into metacognitions in women with eating disorders” brings up ways in how she copes whenever an intense craving starts to creep up on her and one of the few things that she found to be effective was crossword puzzles. One of the female patients said, “Id say even though distracting myself is hard to do, I tend to find that a bit more effective in terms of forgetting about the negative thoughts even though it might be hard to actually start a crossword puzzle.” While the activity of starting the puzzle might be difficult to initiate, the results the crossword can provide for the individual will help assist that puzzler in generating a more positive mindset at that moment, altering Anne’s mood and choice in grabbing that chocolate ice cream tube in her fridge.

These crossword puzzles can reinforce the individual’s cognitive skill in self-regulation to assist in the reduction of the solver’s desire for unhealthy snacks. It’s already difficult enough that the feeling of intense desire for snacks lingers in our mind even after a finished meal however having the food item physically in front of a person creates more of a challenging situation for the individual. The article “Derailing the Streetcar Named Desire cognitive distractions reduce individual differences in Cravings and unhealthy snacking in Response to palatable food,” talks about the EI theory which explains that individuals with high sensitivity to food cues appear to have more thoughts about unhealthy food than others. What they discover was the group with the distraction component that were using cognitive resources and images had a decrease in high-calorie snack choices and craving. Individuals with eating disorders can practice self-regulation strategies using crossword puzzles to experience less intense food cravings. Michael Spira in his article, “Obesity: about dieting for behavior techniques” discusses that the main conflict we humans have is that we have a habit to eat even after we stop being hungry because we use many additional signals other than hunger to consume food. Just the sight of food in front of a person is enough to make the individual want to take a bite compare to when the food item is not in the person’s view. This can stem from the person’s household where it was taught that leaving food unfinished was looked upon as ungrateful. As Michael Spire further explains behavior techniques a person can use, he states that “one can control and modify eating behavior by eliminating or suppressing undesirable stimuli and strengthening desirable ones.” Before folks have a meal they should prepare the food they want to eat that will satisfy them a good amount, if they suddenly get the urge to have a certain snack that starts to bother them, they can pull a crossword puzzle and focus on that instead. They can center their attention on figuring out the next word in the puzzle with no food present in front of them. Rather than Anne having a view of her favorite snack in her sight, she replaces it with a crossword puzzle. This way the individual is practicing self-regulation by modifying what they eat and choosing to do an activity like a crossword puzzle as a way to put aside their intense food craving. Once individuals put this into practice regularly, over time it will become much easier to resist the urge to binge on the snack they so desire and keep themselves occupied with a crossword puzzle.

Crossword puzzles can be associated with a positive feeling that diverts puzzlers from binging on food when they also associate giving in on consuming that food item with negative consequences. As mentioned before emotional regulation can correspond with changes in eating behavior. Sofie Oosterwaal’s thesis paper “Desire to eat and its relationship with emotional regulation, what does rumination have to do with it?” brings up that the research from Evers, Stok, and de Ridder has affirmed although emotions can drive our eating behavior, the main factor that influences our eating behavior is ourselves and how we choose to regulate those emotions. The journal article, “The elaborated intrusion theory of desire: a 10-year retrospective and implications for addiction treatment,” indicates that the “attention of participants can also be redirected to negative consequences of consumption.” If we can influence how we choose to eat throughout the day by regulating our emotions, we can have activities like crossword puzzles be connected with a positive emotion like pleasure or ease and consuming the last bag of Ranch Doritos with a negative emotion that has consequences. With this being said, this can encourage the individual to choose the crossword puzzles rather than the bag of chips because it will make that person feel better about themselves and that they were able to resist the urge to devour those Doritos. Once this practice is put into a frequent routine, it can provide individuals struggling to maintain a healthy eating habits some hope that they will be able to overcome these intense binge cravings in a more effective way.

In a way, this also can reinforce the cognitive mechanism of self-negotiation for the person. When an individual has to decide how the results of each choice he or she will make will influence their course of life, they practice self-negotiation. In a similar way, individuals with eating disorders or folks who struggle to control how much they eat can strengthen their self-negotiation skills. As they are ruminating about the problem they have in front of them, they can think back to the positive results the crossword puzzles can have and the negative effect it can have on their selves if they choose to consume food despite not being hungry. When using crossword puzzles it also boosts the individual skill in reasoning, evaluating choices, and drawing conclusions.

Individuals can use crossword puzzles as a self-denial practice rather than giving in to their food cravings. Although self-denial may seem like a bad strategy habit, when use correctly it can quite effective. The journal article, “Personality Characteristics and coping pattern” goes to examine that self-denial is an emotional coping strategy where the individual goes on avoiding any negative aspects of their life. When a study was done to compare the results of each person coping strategy, they found that the majority of them involve behaviors were it related to reinterpretation where the individuals would selectively ignore negative things in their life. John A. Fleishman states that “selective ignoring is positively related to passive modes of coping, such as the substitution of rewards in work.” When the individual uses self-denial as a coping mechanism to help with binge cravings, they can use selective ignoring to choose to ignore the feelings they are experiencing about grabbing snacks. This can be easier for the individual when they are occupied with a crossword puzzle at hand. They can either have a physical booklet of a crossword puzzle or an app on their phone that has crossword puzzle games at hand, this way it could also be convenient for the individual if they aren’t at home. Since the individual will be focused on the game in front of them, the cravings will be less challenging when they use passive denial.

These word puzzles might not be everyone’s cup of tea. What I mean by this is that although crossword puzzles may be highly beneficial for most folks, for the other short percentage of people it might just not be for them. Some commentators may argue that these puzzles are time-consuming to the individual leading to one’s frustration when trying to complete the puzzle. Although it states in Predictors of crossword puzzle proficiency and Moderators of age–cognition relations that the failure to solve words items from a crossword puzzle could be due to the solver’s lack of knowledge necessary to identify its target or just the use of ineffective strategies to retrieve information from memory, one can argue that overtime these cognitive skills can be strengthened if crossword puzzle is used constantly through their day to day life.

The solver is given unnecessary anxiety. Games as an Innovative Teaching Strategy for Overactive Bladder And BPH, an article written by LeCroy Cheryl insist that one of the biggest disadvantages of crosswords puzzle is that these puzzles can “become threatening or too stressful” on the solver. It was mentioned that the possible space constraints and increase time spent on a single word can cause the solver to fill distress or anxiety. While all of these points can be acknowledged, it could also be said that a way around this can be that the solver can take a break from the crossword puzzle and come back to the puzzle later. However, if the individual is getting too worked up about not being to complete or figure out the next word then maybe this cognitive resource isn’t for them. If even after multiple attempts of using a crossword puzzle isn’t work for a person, the individual can try other games. Alternate solutions to this could be trying out other cognitive resources games like Tetris, Sudoku, or jigsaw puzzle to still be able to use as a distraction, positive stimuli, and practice other cognitive resources to help ease the stress of trying to not grab the chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen to binge on.

Depending on individual personality types can determine whether these folks can highly benefit from crossword puzzles or not. The journal article, “A personality classification system for eating disorders: A longitudinal study. Comprehensive Psychiatry,” divides the personality types that were associated with eating disorders into 5 types which were high-functioning, behaviorally dysregulated, emotionally dysregulated, avoidant insecure, and lastly obsessional sensitive. The ones that are the high-functioning type tend to have minimal personality pathology. Seeing that high-functional types have more positive outcomes than negative ones, these individuals may be able to adapt to new effective strategies more easily than the other personality types. These types tend to create a routine that helps them, so they lean more toward problem-focused coping. With problem-focused coping, it’s directed toward them actively changing their environment. What they can do is include a set time to use crossword puzzles to ease one’s distress by creating a relaxing environment. Most times high functioning types will overwork themselves without taking multiple breaks so doing a crossword puzzle it can hopefully reduce that stress that might cause them to binge, purge or restrict their eating. Crossword puzzles can work great for high-functioning types.

Behaviorally dysregulated types have impulsive and self-damaging behavior that usually displays binging and purging symptoms that are associated with ANBP known as Anorexia Nervosa Binging/Purging or BN also called Bulimia Nervosa. Seeing as how crossword puzzles can be used as a learning tool for individuals if adaptive coping mechanisms are listed in the crossword puzzles, these types will have to think of effective strategies to use under stress. This can help these types because when the urge to binge or purge occurs, they can remember the coping mechanisms they learn in the crossword puzzle using self-negotiation to choose which strategy can work best for them at the moment.

Emotional dysregulated types have histrionic tendencies, tend to be irrational at times, and have angry outbursts on account of their lack of control in anger. These groups of lively people have a habit of overreacting to minor events that constantly need reassurance from others while also displaying binging and purging symptoms related to ANBP and BN. Due to the dynamic mood change these types exhibit, crossword puzzles might not be the choice of cognitive game resource to use to help in improving their destructive eating habits. While crossword puzzle may alter their mood change to a more positive one, there is also a possibility that they could easily get frustrated with the game and leave it aside. Crossword puzzles might not always work for these types of individuals.

The avoidant insecure types tend to have low self-esteem that can range from devaluing their achievements or being overly dismayed by their own personal shortcomings. This makes them have an inability to relax or be hypersensitive to criticism. With all of this being said, they are more prone to have anorexic features related to ANR also known as anorexia nervosa restriction than binging or purging ones. Crosswords puzzle can be a possible method that could be used for these types however not for a long period of time as they might start to devalue themselves and leave the puzzle if they are not able to complete it quickly. This is due to their low self-esteem. Nevertheless, if they are able to have the satisfaction of completing the crossword puzzle, that can boost their self-esteem.

The obsessional sensitive types are perfectionists. Their perfectionism tends to interfere with their ability to see the “big picture” of a situation that they may overreact to any minor events that don’t go their way. These perfectionists may also exaggerate the difficulties of a situation leading them to be indecisive of choices that they will either postpone or avoid in fear of making a mistake. Just like avoidant insecure types, they display more anorexic characteristics, restricting the amount of food they eat. Crossword puzzles might not be the best strategy for these individuals as they might be too focused on the puzzle that it’s possible they forget to eat or forget their other tasks around them in order to have the satisfaction of completing the puzzle for themselves.

Despite the small group of people who easily get stressed from crossword puzzles, overall the majority of people who don’t get frustrated as easily can highly benefit from the puzzle, influencing their eating behavior in a positive way. Individuals who have crossword puzzles that work for them can improve their metacognition using cognitive strategies to develop better eating methods and interrupt food cravings. Crossword puzzles can interfere with our desire for unhealthy snacks with positive stimuli, strengthen the individual’s cognitive skill in self-regulation, self-negotiation, and self-denial to assist the reduction of the solver food craving and be associate with a positive feeling that diverts puzzlers from binging on food when they also associate giving in on consuming that food item with negative consequences. Games will always have some kind of effect on the individual. Although it is easy to claim that these crossword puzzles can lead to anxiety, frustration, and a lack of productivity for the solver when examine more closely the majority of individuals can find these puzzles to be motivating and assist in improving their cognitive skills to help with a person’s eating disorder. They can exercise healthy strategies and provide a positive mood for that individual as well. Crossword puzzles can be more of a help than one thinks.


Brockmeyer, T., Ingenerf, K., Walther, S., Wild, B., Hartmann, M., Herzog, W., Bents, H., & Friedreich, H.-C. (2013). Training cognitive flexibility in patients with anorexia nervosa: A pilot randomized controlled trial of cognitive remediation therapy. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 47(1), 24–31.

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Hambrick, D. Z., Salthouse, T. A., & Meinz, E. J. (1999). Predictors of crossword puzzle proficiency and moderators of age–cognition relations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 128(2), 131-164. doi:

May, J., Kavanagh, D. J., & Andrade, J. (2015). The elaborated intrusion theory of desire: A 10-year retrospective and implications for addiction treatments. Addictive Behaviors, 44, 29–34.

Poston, Iona,R.N., PhD. (1998). Crossword puzzles: Adjunct clinical teaching strategy. Journal of Nursing Education, 37(6), 266-267. Retrieved from

Punia , K. (2020, August). Acute psychosocial stress in binge eating disorder – McMaster University. Retrieved April 25, 2023, from

Puttevils, L., Vanderhasselt, M.-A., Horczak, P., & Vervaet, M. (2021). Differences in the use of emotion regulation strategies between anorexia and BULIMIA NERVOSA: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 109, 152262.

Spira, M. (1982). Obesity: Abandon dieting for behavioural techniques. Modern Medicine . Retrieved April 25, 2023, from

Thompson-Brenner, H., Eddy, K. T., Franko, D. L., Dorer, D. J., Vashchenko, M., Kass, A. E., & Herzog, D. B. (2008). A personality classification system for eating disorders: A longitudinal study. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 49(6), 551–560.

Vann, A., Strodl, E., & Anderson, E. (2013). Thinking about internal states, a qualitative investigation into metacognitions in women with eating disorders. Journal of Eating Disorders, 1(1).

van Dillen, L. F., & Andrade, J. (2016). Derailing the Streetcar Named Desire. cognitive distractions reduce individual differences in cravings and unhealthy snacking in response to palatable food. Appetite, 96, 102–110.′

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2 Responses to Research – InspireAngels

  1. davidbdale says:

    What’s going on here, IA?
    This looks like about 1000 words.
    Clearly you’ve neglected to import all your material.
    I’ve texted you about this.
    Put it back into Grade Please when it’s complete.


  2. davidbdale says:

    Brilliant work, the culmination of a semester of obvious and very fruitful work. I’m proud to have been part of its creation.


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