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Physiol Behav. 2008 Jun 9;94(3):384-92. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2008.02.005. Epub 2008 Feb 12.

Weakened biological signals: highly-developed eating schemas amongst women are associated with maladaptive patterns of comfort food consumption.

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  • 1School of Hotel Administration, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


We examine the comfort food preferences and consumption patterns of women with highly versus less developed schemas for cognitive restraint, emotional and situational eating. In an online survey, 196 women provided their personal definition of what constitutes a comfort food, indicated their favourite one, and their level of hunger and fullness as well as emotional state before and after consumption. Low/high (n=32/n=30) schematic groups respectively scored below/above the median on all three factors of the Dutch Eating Behavior Questionnaire (DEBQ). Results support our proposition that complex eating schemas weaken biological signals and produce maladaptive patterns: high schematics preferred high calorie comfort foods, eaten even when feeling full to alleviate negative emotions at the cost of more post-consumption guilt. High schematics reported a lesser post-consumption increase in fullness than low schematics. Low schematics favoured low and high calorie foods equally, their choice motivated by pleasure and positive emotions. High schematics' definitions revealed that comfort foods are eaten to fill a void or when experiencing negative emotions as well as a deep concern with weight gain; low schematics focused on comfort foods' hedonic attributes. Our results highlight the hitherto unexplored influence of possessing all three highly-developed DEBQ eating schemas in reducing the effectiveness of biological signals and leading to maladaptive eating choices and behaviors.

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