Stress, Anxiety, and Emotional Eating Predict Maladaptive Eating Patterns in Obese Women




Franks, Susan
Alahmady, Ahmed
Lee, Michelle


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Background: Growing evidence suggests that stress contributes to obesity and its metabolic dysregulation through influences on food intake and choice. With high rates of stress and over 25% of the population suffering from significant anxiety, it is important to identify their effects on eating patterns. This study aims to identify relationships of increased stress and anxiety with eating patterns in obese women. It was hypothesized that recent stress, general anxiety, and a tendency to emotionally eat (EE) will be associated with (1) increases in eating in response to hunger cues [HN], (2) lower use of cognitive restraint [CR], and (3) increases in unplanned or impulsive eating (disinhibition) [DI]. Methods: A secondary analysis was performed on data obtained from a study investigating stress-related eating in obese women (n=30). Mean age was 36.17 years. Mean BMI was 40.21 kg/m2. Self-report surveys included the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (trait anxiety used; T-ANX), Eating and Appraisal Due to Emotions and Stress (EE scale used), and the Eating Behavior Scale (HN, CR, DI). Pearson correlation was used to determine relationships of EE with PSS, T-ANX, HN, CR, and DI. HN, CR, and DI were divided into high and low groups based on median splits. Logistic regressions were used to evaluate the ability of PSS, T-ANX, and EE to correctly classify HN, CR, and DI. Results: HN was significantly correlated with EE (r=-.539, p=.002), PSS (r=.393, p=.032) and T-ANX (r=.465, p=.010). Logistic regression was significant for HN (X2 =13.235, p=.004) correctly classifying 76.7% of the cases. Variance due to EE was significant in the model (p=0.17). CR was significantly correlated with EE (r=.440, p=0.15), but not PSS or T-ANX. Logistic regression was not significant for CR. DI was significantly correlated with EE (r=-.622, p2=11.872, p=.008). Variance due to EE was significant in the model (p=.037). Conclusion: The extent to which obese women eat in response to hunger cues or engage in unplanned eating is significantly related to life stress, tendency toward a general state of anxiety, and a propensity to eat in response to stress. Emotional eating carries a particularly significant liability toward maladaptive eating patterns in obesity. Anxiety and emotional eating appear to be viable therapeutic targets for obese women.