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Appetite. 2004 Aug;43(1):39-46.

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

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Liverpool, Eleanor Rathbone Building, Bedford Street South, Liverpool L69 7ZA, England, UK.


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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