Previously, it has been demonstrated that overeating can occur when an individual engages in a cognitive task during a meal. One possibility, therefore, is that task performance can provide a measure of attention to dietary control. To explore this idea we measured performance on an otherwise irrelevant task during a meal. In two experiments, we compared intake and performance across five groups of females; dieters, and four groups of non-dieters, each with contrasting high and low scores on the restraint scale of the Dutch Eating Behaviour Questionnaire and the disinhibition scale of the Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire. Our analysis suggests that a correspondence can exist between task performance and intake (Experiment 1) and this might be influenced by the extent to which foods are regarded as forbidden (Experiment 2). However, aspects of our data are difficult to reconcile with the idea that task performance reflects a simple measure of attention to dietary control. Instead, one possibility is that individuals differ in the way that they choose to allocate attention during a meal. In relation to this idea, we discuss the possibility that some individuals choose to avoid food-related cognition by engaging strategically with other aspects of their cognitive environment. (c) 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.