Dr Helen Coulthard

Job: Senior Lecturer

Faculty: Health and Life Sciences

School/department: School of Applied Social Sciences

Address: De Montfort, University, The Gateway, Leicester, LE1 9BH.

T: +44 (0)116 207 8828

E: hcoulthard@dmu.ac.uk

W: https://www.dmu.ac.uk/hls

 

Personal profile

A developmental psychologist who is primarily interested in the development of eating behaviour and psychopathology. Particular areas of interest include fruit and vegetable consumption, and food neophobia, throughout the lifespan.

Dr Coulthard's research centres on furthering understanding of the strategies that relate to increasing healthy food consumption, including exposure, modelling, restriction, pressure, as well as individual characteristics which contribute to pathology, such as anxiety and sensory processing.

She is also interested in the early predictors of problematic eating behaviour in later life.

Research group affiliations

Psychology

Publications and outputs

  • Eating in the lockdown during the Covid 19 pandemic; self-reported changes in eating behaviour, and associations with BMI, eating style, coping and health anxiety
    dc.title: Eating in the lockdown during the Covid 19 pandemic; self-reported changes in eating behaviour, and associations with BMI, eating style, coping and health anxiety dc.contributor.author: Sharps, Maxine; Coulthard, Helen; Cunliffe, Maxine; Van den Tol, Annemieke dc.description.abstract: The global coronavirus pandemic (Covid 19) resulted in national lockdowns where individuals were asked to isolate in their homes to stop the spread of the disease. Using a cross-sectional survey, the current paper aimed to examine self-reported changes in eating patterns and behaviour during the lockdown in the UK, and associations with BMI, demographic variables, eating styles, health anxiety, food insecurity and coping strategies. Participants (N = 620) were recruited online through social media advertising. The results showed that there were self-reported changes to food consumption during the lockdown across the sample. Increases in consumption of HED (high energy density) snack foods during the lockdown was associated with sex, pre-lockdown eating behaviour (emotional eating and uncontrolled eating), and Covid-specific health anxiety. Increases in positive eating practices such as eating more home prepared foods, and fruits and vegetables, were associated with adaptive coping strategies. Higher emotional eating (EE) during the lockdown was associated with a higher BMI, higher pre-lockdown EE and maladaptive coping strategies. Maladaptive coping strategies moderated the relationship between BMI and EE during the lockdown. In particular a higher BMI was associated with higher EE during the lockdown if an individual also had higher maladaptive coping strategies. These findings suggest that changes to eating behaviour may be part of a wider style of maladaptive or adaptive coping, particularly in those with a history of EE or uncontrolled eating. Preparing individuals to adopt more adaptive coping strategies during lockdown situations may be crucial to improving health during subsequent the lockdown events. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • How multiple threats to safety affects quality of life for picky eating adults; a new explanatory model
    dc.title: How multiple threats to safety affects quality of life for picky eating adults; a new explanatory model dc.contributor.author: Fox, Gemma; Coulthard, Helen; Williamson, Iain; Aldridge, Vicki dc.description.abstract: Picky eating describes a pattern of eating characterised by a narrow dietary range with rejection of both novel and familiar foods. Research has suggested that picky eating in adulthood is associated with several negative psychosocial outcomes including impaired quality of life. This research aimed to build and test a model explaining the relationship between picky eating and quality of life. 230 participants were recruited via online support forums for picky eating, and an undergraduate research participation scheme. Participants completed self-report measures of picky eating, sensory sensitivity, disgust, anxiety, fear of negative evaluation and eating related quality of life. Regression analysis indicated that picky eating, disgust sensitivity, anxiety, and fear of negative evaluation were all associated with impaired eating-related quality of life. A theoretical model was then devised which aimed to explain the interactions between these factors, and Path Analysis indicated that this model was a good fit for the data. This Safety in Picky Eating and Quality of life (SPEQ) model suggests that threat perception and the drive for safety underlies the relationship between picky eating and impaired quality of life. The SPEQ model provides a preliminary basis for understanding how picky eating impacts quality of life in adulthood. dc.description: open access article
  • Are music listening strategies associated with reduced food consumption following negative mood inductions; a series of three exploratory experimental studies.
    dc.title: Are music listening strategies associated with reduced food consumption following negative mood inductions; a series of three exploratory experimental studies. dc.contributor.author: van den Tol, Annemieke; Coulthard, Helen; Lang, Victoria; Wallis, Debbie dc.description.abstract: Emotions play an important role in overeating, yet there is little research looking at practical strategies to reduce overeating in response to a negative mood. In three different experimental studies, we tested if exposure to music can reduce food consumption in a negative mood. Female undergraduates (N = 120-121 in each study) completed a measure of emotional eating and reported baseline hunger. Mood ratings were taken at baseline, post-mood induction and post-eating. All participants were given a mood induction (sadness for study 1, stress for studies 2 and 3) and allocated to one of three music conditions (self-chosen in study 3) or a silent (control) condition. Music was selected from three pieces reported by each participant as being listened to regularly when experiencing the negative mood being examined (sadness or stress) in order to provide solace (comforting music), diversion (distracting positive music), or discharge (angry and/or sad music). Participants were provided with several snack foods to consume whilst completing a mock taste test and intake (in grams) was compared between conditions. In study 1 participants in the music for discharge condition consumed less than those in the control condition. Moreover, participants with high levels of self-reported EE ate more crisps in the control than in the distraction condition. In study 2 participants in the solace condition consumed less than those in the control and discharge conditions. In study 3 most participants chose music for diversion; this did not, however, lead to lower consumption, despite a reduction in reported stress. Overall, the results of these studies indicate that listening to certain types of music might reduce emotion-related eating after controlling for hunger using a standardized pre-session snack. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • The lived experience of parenting a child with sensory sensitivity and picky eating
    dc.title: The lived experience of parenting a child with sensory sensitivity and picky eating dc.contributor.author: Cunliffe, Louise; Coulthard, Helen; Williamson, Iain dc.description.abstract: ‘Picky eating’ is a common behaviour seen in childhood in both clinical and non-clinical populations. Sensory processing difficulties have been repeatedly associated with food refusal and picky eating behaviours. The aim of this study was to explore the lived experiences of parents/caregivers who have a child displaying both sensory processing differences and picky eating behaviours utilising Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Participants were recruited from social media support groups for parents of picky eating children. Pre-selection criteria utilised an adapted short sensory profile questionnaire to ensure the children displayed probable/definite taste-smell, audio-visual and tactile sensory sensitivities. Twelve participants fulfilling the required criteria were interviewed face to face utilising a semi-structured interview schedule. Interviews were transcribed and analysed following IPA guidelines and three common themes are presented here: Battling for control of the sensory environment, Living with stigma and, disapproval, and Staying positive and moving forward. The findings show the very considerable day-to-day challenges of parenting a child with sensory issues with food, including a lack of support and criticism from others. It was apparent that the parents in our study gradually adopted a positive and accepting attitude to their child’s eating. This acceptance allowed them to have positive interactions around food with their child such as cooking and playing with food, suggesting that experiential activities serve an important purpose in this population. Further research should examine whether parental interventions based on acceptance of child eating behaviour, and commitment to gradual positive food interactions would be the best strategy to support parents and children. dc.description: open access article
  • Understanding disgust-based food rejection in picky and non-picky eaters: Willingness to touch and taste familiar foods with changes
    dc.title: Understanding disgust-based food rejection in picky and non-picky eaters: Willingness to touch and taste familiar foods with changes dc.contributor.author: Coulthard, Helen; Abdullahi, Najma; Bell, Katie; Noon, Elizabeth dc.description.abstract: The tendency to feel disgusted is associated with picky eating, however, no research has so far examined how this association translates into the evaluation of foods. 232 participants were recruited through the Prolific Academic crowdsourcing research tool: 127 picky eaters and 105 non-picky eaters. Online questionnaires about picky eating, disgust sensitivity, tactile sensitivity, and anxiety were completed. Participants were presented with 16 images of familiar foods (bread, chocolate, strawberries, pizza,) and rated their willingness to touch and taste the foods. The images were either an original image (e.g. plain bread), an edible change (e.g. bread with seeds), a contamination change (e.g. bread with a bite mark) or a degraded/spoil change (e.g. bread with mould). Across the whole sample, participants were more willing to say they would touch the food than taste it, and they were least likely to want to touch or taste food with signs of spoil or rot. Disgust sensitivity mediated the relationship between willingness to taste the original food and foods with both edible changes and signs of contamination or spoil. After controlling for willingness to touch and taste the original familiar food, picky eaters were less willing to touch and taste any food with a change compared to non-picky eaters. These findings indicate that picky eaters may perceive safe edible changes to food in a similar way to inedible changes, and for them any tactile contact with changed food is aversive. Further research is needed on strategies to lessen any maladaptive disgust responses in relation to changes to familiar, edible foods. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • The influence of experimental confederate peers on children's food intake: A systematic review and meta-analysis
    dc.title: The influence of experimental confederate peers on children's food intake: A systematic review and meta-analysis dc.contributor.author: Sharps, Maxine; Coulthard, Helen; Salvy, Sarah-Jeanne; Ryan, Sean; Fallon, Vicky dc.description.abstract: Confederates influence eating behaviour. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses have been conducted on this topic, however, the majority have examined adults, or a combination of adults and children, therefore, an up-to-date meta-analysis is needed to examine the impact of confederate peers on children’s food intake. We systematically reviewed and meta-analysed the influence of confederate peers on children’s food intake in research using present and remote-confederates. Six publications summarising findings from seven studies were included in this review. One publication was excluded from the meta-analysis because it was not possible to extract the required data. The meta-analysis showed that children were influenced by confederate peers; eating more when exposed to a high-intake compared to a no or low-intake confederate. Larger effects were observed when children were exposed to a remote- than a present-confederate, and for studies using healthy snacks compared to high fat high sugar (HFHS) snacks. No difference in effect size was observed when children were exposed to a high- vs. low-intake confederate compared to a high- vs. no-intake confederate. In the narrative synthesis, confederate intake influenced children’s eating behaviour twenty-four-hours later, and possible moderators and a potential mechanism underlying the influence of confederates were identified. Caution is needed when interpreting the results, as the sub-groups were not compared statistically due to high heterogeneity, and a small number of studies were included in this review. Furthermore, all studies using the present-confederate design examined HFHS snack intake, therefore, it is unclear whether observed differences in effect sizes between present- and remote-confederates may be due to confederate or food type. Research is needed to further examine the influence of confederate peers on children’s food intake and to examine mechanisms and moderators. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • The role of perceived descriptive and injunctive norms on the self-reported frequency of meat and plant-based meal intake in UK-based adults.
    dc.title: The role of perceived descriptive and injunctive norms on the self-reported frequency of meat and plant-based meal intake in UK-based adults. dc.contributor.author: Sharps, Maxine; Fallon, Vicky; Ryan, Sean; Coulthard, Helen dc.description.abstract: Perceived social norms refer to beliefs that people hold about what other people do (descriptive norms) and approve of (injunctive norms), and are associated with food intake. However, less is known about whether perceived social norms are associated with meat and plant-based meal intake. Using a cross-sectional survey design 136 participants (aged 19-66 years, mean age=39.63, SD=12.85 years, mean BMI=25.77, SD=5.30, 80.9% female, 77.9% omnivores, 22.1% flexitarians) answered questions about how frequently they consumed meat and plant-based meals, and how frequently they perceived people in their social environment to consume (perceived descriptive norms), and approve of consuming (perceived injunctive norms) meat and plant-based meals. Perceived descriptive and injunctive norms were positively associated with participants’ frequency of meat intake: participants ate meat more frequently when they perceived their significant other to frequently eat meat (descriptive norm), and when they perceived their significant other and friends to approve of (injunctive norm) frequently eating meat. Perceived descriptive norms were positively associated, but injunctive norms were negatively associated with participants’ frequency of plant-based meal intake: participants ate plant-based meals more frequently when they perceived their extended family, friends, and significant other to frequently eat plant-based meals. However, participants ate plant-based meals more frequently when they perceived their extended family to approve of less frequent plant-based meal intake. These results suggest that different social groups may be important for meat and plant-based meal intake, with significant others and friends appearing to be important reference points for both food types. Further research examining the contexts in which the different social groups influence eating behaviour would be of value. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • Using repeated visual exposure, rewards and modelling in a mobile application to increase vegetable acceptance in children
    dc.title: Using repeated visual exposure, rewards and modelling in a mobile application to increase vegetable acceptance in children dc.contributor.author: Farrow, C.; Belcher, E.; Coulthard, Helen; Thomas, J.M.; Lumsden, J.; Hakobyan, L.; Haycraft, E. dc.description.abstract: Children are not consuming the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables. Repeated visual exposure, modelling, and rewards have been shown to be effective at increasing vegetable acceptance in young children. The aim of this study was to assess the effectiveness of an evidence-based mobile application (Vegetable Maths Masters) which builds on these principles to increase children’s liking and acceptance of vegetables. Seventy-four children (37 male, 37 female) aged 3-6 years old were randomised to play with either the vegetable app or a similar control app that did not include any foods. Children played their allocated game for 10 minutes. Liking and acceptance of the vegetables used in Vegetable Maths Masters (carrot and sweetcorn) and other vegetables which were not used in the game (yellow pepper and tomato) were measured pre- and post-play in both groups. Parents provided data about their child’s food fussiness and previous exposure to the foods being used. Children who played with the Vegetable Maths Masters app consumed significantly more vegetables after playing with the app and reported significant increases in their liking of vegetables, relative to the control group. The effect of the Vegetable Maths Masters app on the change in consumption of vegetables was mediated by the change in liking of vegetables. These findings suggest that evidence-based mobile apps can provide an effective tool for increasing children’s liking and consumption of vegetables in the short-term. Further work is now required to establish whether these effects are maintained over time. dc.description: The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.
  • The Role of Self-Disgust and Emotion Regulation within Recovering from an Eating Disorder: A Mixed Methods, Longitudinal Perspective
    dc.title: The Role of Self-Disgust and Emotion Regulation within Recovering from an Eating Disorder: A Mixed Methods, Longitudinal Perspective dc.contributor.author: Bell, Katie; Coulthard, Helen; Wildbur, D. J. dc.description.abstract: 1) Background There is a substantial body of literature supporting the view that disordered eating behaviour is broadly characterized by emotion dysregulation but little attention has been paid to the possible mediators that could explain this relationship. 2) Method Three hundred and fifteen female participants, with a self-reported diagnosis of anorexia nervosa (n=155), bulimia nervosa (n=97) or no previous history of an eating disorder (n=63) took part in a questionnaire based longitudinal study, using measures of eating disorder symptoms as the outcome variables and scores of self-disgust (SD) and difficulties in emotion regulation (DER) as the predictor variables. Out of this sample, twelve were also interviewed to learn more about their lived experiences of recovery and how SD may have impacted on this. 3) Results SD was significantly, positively associated with all sub types of difficulties in emotion regulation and disordered eating behaviour, as well measures of anxiety and depression. In line with this, SD also predicted eating disorder symptomology after controlling for anxiety, depression and emotional regulation difficulties. Key themes from the interviews are also discussed. 4) Discussion Difficulties in emotion regulation have already been established as a useful target for therapeutic intervention and therefore targeting and developing strategies to deal with SD explicitly may offer another strand of potential treatment for those with an eating disorder.
  • The mediating effect of self-disgust on emotion regulation and eating disorder symptoms: A longitudinal perspective.
    dc.title: The mediating effect of self-disgust on emotion regulation and eating disorder symptoms: A longitudinal perspective. dc.contributor.author: Bell, Katie; Coulthard, Helen; Wildbur, D. dc.description.abstract: 1) Background There is a substantial body of literature supporting the view that disordered eating behaviour is broadly characterized by emotion dysregulation but little attention has been paid to the possible mediators that could explain this relationship. 2) Method Two hundred and fifty eight female participants, with a self-reported diagnosis of anorexia nervosa (n=156), bulimia nervosa (n=34) or no previous history of an eating disorder (n=68) took part in a questionnaire based longitudinal study, using measures of eating disorder symptoms as the outcome variables and scores of self-disgust (SD) and emotional regulation as the predictor variables. 3)Results SD was significantly, positively associated with all sub types of difficulties in emotion regulation and disordered eating behaviour, as well measures of anxiety and depression. In line with this, SD also predicted eating disorder symptomology after controlling for anxiety, depression and emotional regulation difficulties. SD was found to mediate the relationship between depression, non-acceptance of emotion responses and difficulties in controlling behaviours when upset and disordered eating behaviour. The differences in change scores compared to base line measures were also examined. 4) Discussion Difficulties in emotion regulation have already been established as a useful target for therapeutic intervention and therefore targeting and developing strategies to deal with SD explicitly may offer another strand of potential treatment for those with an eating disorder.

View a full listing of Helen Coulthard's publications and outputs.

Research interests/expertise

  • Feeding problems and eating behaviour in infants and children
  • Age of complementary feeding in infants
  • Baby food provision and later eating behaviour
  • Food neophobia
  • Fruit and vegetable consumption
  • Parental strategies, including exposure, modelling, control
  • Individual characteristics which influence consumption, including anxiety and sensory processing
  • Early predictors of later problematic behaviour, including neophobia, reduced fruit and vegetable consumption, emotional eating, external eating and restrained eating.

Areas of teaching

  • Infant development
  • Health psychology
  • Psychology of eating behaviour
  • Statistics and research methods.

Qualifications

  • BSc Psychology
  • PhD

Courses taught

Core areas in psychology

  • Infant Development
  • Psychology of Health and Food across the Lifespan.

Conference attendance

  • Feeding behaviour in Infancy and Childhood, March 2010, Institute of Child Health, London, ‘Sensory processing and eating behaviour’ , Invited speaker.
  • Postgraduate research conference, June 2010, Institut Paul Bocuse, Lyons, ‘Psychological determinants of food neophobia’, invited speaker.

Externally funded research grants information

Comparison of feeding behaviour in infants weaned early and late, Danone, research project, 01/10-08/11, CI, project based at University of Birmingham.

Professional esteem indicators

Journal reviewing activities

  • Appetite, 2011 to present, reviewer
  • British Journal of Health Psychology, 2009 to present, reviewer
  • Child Care Health & Development, 2011 to present, reviewer
  • Maternal Child Nutrition, 2009 to present, reviewer
  • Eating Behaviours, 2006 to present, reviewer
  • Public Health Nutrition, 2010 to present, reviewer.

Grant reviewing activities

  • National Institute Health Research (NIHR) Public Health Research programme, 2011- present, reviewer.

Case studies

Dr Coulthard's research is very relevant to the advice given to parents about the strategies that are most effective in promoting a healthy diet in children. She has frequently attended postnatal groups and children’s centres, and talked to mothers about eating behaviour in children.

In addition, her research has been published in the media, especially on local news programmes and radio programmes. In addition there has been coverage on websites for both parental advice and the national media. She recently contributed to the BBC website, ‘Scrubbing Up’ which showcases opinions from experts in their field.

Helen Coulthard