Stress and eating: the effects of ego-threat and cognitive demand on food intake in restrained and emotional eaters

D J Wallis, M M Hetherington
Appetite 2004, 43 (1): 39-46
Restrained and emotional eaters overeat in response to stress. To compare differential effects of cognitive demand and ego-threatening stressors on subsequent chocolate intake, 38 females completed a neutral (control), an ego threatening and an incongruent Stroop colour-naming task on three separate occasions. Participants were assigned to four groups based on median-split scores on the restrained and emotional eating scales of the Dutch Eating Behaviour Questionnaire-high restraint/high emotional, high restraint/low emotional, low restraint/high emotional and low restraint/low emotional. Higher response latencies were observed in the incongruent task, confirming its greater cognitive (attentional) demand. Overall intake was enhanced by 23% after ego-threat and 15% after the incongruent Stroop task relative to control. Restraint was associated with greater intake after both ego-threat and the incongruent task than in the control condition. In contrast, emotional eating was associated with greater intake after only the ego-threat, relative to control. A positive association between reaction time and subsequent intake in all conditions for high restraint/low emotional eaters provided support for the limited capacity hypothesis. Enhanced intake in emotional eaters is proposed to relate to escape from self-awareness. These findings demonstrate differential effects of threat and demand on stress-related eating in restrained and emotional eaters.

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