The Connection Between Stress and Food


Nowadays, excessive weight and obesity are considered to be among the major health problems and co-morbidities (type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease) of the Western society (American Psychological Association (APA)). The treatment of these issues is rather problematic and costly. Moreover, interventions usually have modest effect (Carraca et al.1). Increasing the effectiveness of the intervention strategies and development of the successful preventive measures can be reached after the clarification of the factors, which “facilitate adherence to health-related behaviors critical to successful health management” (Carraca et al.1). These factors are exercise, health nutrition, and elimination of the emotional eating. The relevance of the last one is based on understanding that obesity is the result of energy imbalance that is highly reliant on the dietary energy intake and expenditure (Carraca et al.1). The current work shows that there is some controversy concerning the fact whether only positive or both positive and negative emotions influence emotional eating. Research performed by the APA showed the connection between the stress and food. Researchers outlined that individuals tend to seek calorific and fatty food during the stressful periods (APA). Bodies then tend to store more fat than when individuals are relaxed. Moreover, these behaviors can have negative influence on their physical and emotional health (for example, feeling lazy and unsatisfied about their bodies).


Official statistics state that 38 % of adults admitted to eating unhealthy or excessively during the past month due to stress (APA). About 49 % of these individuals have been displaying such behavior for a week or longer. Stress also causes loss of appetite that results in skipping meals (in the 67 % of cases of respondents) (APA). However, overeating does not always help people to manage their problems. Moreover, it even leads to increasing dissatisfaction and worsening of the physical state. After having overeaten, 49 % of adults reported increased disappointment, 46 % of respondents stated that they felt bad about their bodies, 36 % became lazier and 22 % became more irritable (APA). Statistics show that overeating is not an effective method of stress management and can lead to further worsening of physical and mental health of an individual. Hence, overcoming emotional eating is considered to be a rather relevant task.

The Causes of Emotional Eating

Determining the causes of emotional eating is one of the critical factors of the development of efficient strategies for solving this issue. However, there is some notable controversy. As it is stated in the work “Happy Eating: The Understanding Role of Overeating in a Positive Mood” by Bongers et al., in stressful situations emotional eaters consumed more sweet and calorific products compared to non-emotional eaters and participants in non-stressful conditions. However, this study did not consider the overall food consumption. In the same article, the authors presented the findings of the studies conducted by Addrianne M., de Ridder D., and Evars C. who stated that there is no connection between negative emotional eating or snacking. The research done by Turner S., Lusczynka A., Warner L., and Schwarzer R. and referred to by Bongers et al., outlined in the similar article that “food intake was not directly affected by emotional eating status” (74). The study performed by Kenardy J., Butler A., Carter C., and Moor S. and presented in the mentioned above article, did not found any any connection between positive and negative mood induction and emotional eating. Other findings of the presented studies showed that the existence of the connection between mood and overeating is still unclear. Hence, it cannot be definitely stated that overcoming emotional eating can be achieved by improvement of personal mood and ability to cope with stress. Thus, the additional investigation of various researches concerning emotional eating was conducted to identify its backgrounds and determine the most effective strategies for management of this issue.

How to Gain Control Of the Emotional Eating

Bongers et al. “induced a positive, negative, or neutral mood in a student sample and subsequently measured food intake” (74). They found out that emotional eaters increased their food consumption in the positive psychological condition compared to neutral and negative conditions. In the work, “Body Image Change and Improved Eating Self-Regulation in a Weight Management Intervention in Women” by Carraca et al., researchers outlined that improving body image leads to the improvement of self-perception (and positive change of mood) and plays the considerable role in enhancing self-regulating and healthy nutrition and overcoming emotional eating. Decrease in emotional eating and reduction of the abnormal fat caused by the improvement of the mindfulness, stress management, and cortisol awakening response is described in the case study “Mindfulness Intervention for Stress Eating to Reduce Cortisol and Abdominal Fat Among Overweight and Obese Women: An Explanatory Randomized Controlled Study” by Daunenmier et al.. Positive influence of behavioral modification on emotional eating through application of the special persuasive system, namely mobile phone applications and sensors in women’s brassieres for tracking nutrition, personal emotions, and interventions, was described in the work “Food and Mood: Just-In-Time Support for Emotional Eating.” Overcoming emotional eating through the mindfulness-based intervention focused on decreasing food carvings, dichotomous thinking, and body image concerns is described in the research report prepared by Alberts, H., Thewissen, R., and Raes, L. (2012). Notably, all these studies showed that improvement of individual’s mood, self-perception, and stress management helps the participants to manage emotional eating and ameliorate their physical and psychological health.


The article “Happy Eating: The Understanding Role of Overeating in a Positive Mood” is written by the scientists working and having credentials of the Maastricht University (the Netherlands), where they study psychology and neuroscience. They are Bongers, P. (PHD student), Jansen A. (PhD), Havermans, R. (a docent), Roefs, R. (Assistant Professor), and Nederkoorn, C. (Associate Professor). Hence, this work is considered to be credible. The article was found on the official web site of this university. In my opinion, this source can be considered credible and unbiased because it was prepared by the professionals who study psychology and have the science degree. There is no evidence that this article is biased.

The influence of positive, negative, and neutral mood on the food intake of students was analyzed. The study showed that emotional eaters increase their consumption in the positive psychological conditions. Moreover, they discovered that the extent of the improvement of participants’ mood during emotional eating depends greatly on the amount of consumed calories: “the more calories participants ate in the first 5 min of tasting, the better their mood was” (Bongers et al. 78). It strengthens the understanding that a personal reaction on the outer environment can cause overeating. Hence, overcoming emotional eating can be achieved by mood melioration. However, the analysis of this study aims to determine whether the negative mood (caused by stress, personal dissatisfaction) can cause overeating It will also provide understanding whether the initiatives directed on overcoming emotional eating should contain methods of management of negative emotions.

The other source is “Body Image Change and Improved Eating Self-Regulation in a Weight Management Intervention in Women.” Its authors are E. Carraca, M. Silva, D. Markland, P. Vieira, C. Minderico, L. Sardinha, and P. Taixera. The credibility of this article is evidenced by authors being the representatives of the Faculty of Human Kinetics in the Technical University of Lisbon. This work was found on the Internet on the official web site of National Center for Biotechnology Information. There is no evidence that this research is biased.

The authors investigated the effect of the improved body image on the individual’s ability to overcome emotional eating. The study of 239 overweight women who took part in a one year behavioral weight management program confirmed that improved body image leads to the increase in self-control over nutrition and decrease in overeating (Carraca et al. 1). The article argues whether the improvement of body image among males will also help to overcome emotional eating. The answer to this question fits the casebook because it is directed on overcoming emotional eating by representatives of all genders. However, the authors studied effectiveness of the improvement of body image on self-control of women only.

The next source is the article titled “Mindfulness Intervention for Stress Eating to Reduce Cortisol and Abdominal Fat among Overweight and Obese Women: An Explanatory Randomized Controlled Study.” The authors are J. Daubenmier (assistant professor), J. Kristeller (PhD in Psychology), F. Hecht (a professor), N. Maninger (a research associate), M. Kuwata (PhD in Psychiatry), K. Jhaveri (BA), R. Lustig (Professor of Clinical Pediatrics), M. Kemeny (Professor, director of health psychology program), L. Karan (M.D. of the Department of Psychiatry), and E. Epel (Professor in the Department of Psychiatry). This clinical study was conducted by the employees of the Department of Pediatrics, Department of Psychiatry, and Department of Medicine of the University of California. The article was found on the Internet on the official web site of the Journal of Obesity. Hence, it is considered to be relevant. No evidence of authors being biased was found.

This article is based on the assumption that cortisol secretion and psychological distress cause emotional eating and lead to abdominal fat. The researchers observed the physical and psychological health of overweight women who took part in a four-month mindfulness program. This intervention was addressing anxiety, mindfulness, and external-based eating. Reduction of emotional eating was associated with effective coping with stressful experiences, lowering of the reliance on the “comfort food” for management of negative emotions, and promotion of more favorable fat distribution (Daunenmier et al. 1). This article depicts a successful strategy of overcoming emotional eating caused by stress and negative mood and suits the context of the casebook. The participants were relatively healthy women who reported high levels of stress. Therefore, it is reasonable to wonder whether the mindfulness intervention will be effective for men as well.

Another source is titled “Food and Mood: Just-in-time Support for Emotional Eating”. The authors of the article are E. Carroll (Post-doctoral researcher in the University of Rochester) and the representatives of the University of Southampton: M. Czerwinski (PhD), A. Roseway, A. Kapoor, P. Johns (Professor of Physics), and K. Rowan. The article was found on the Internet on the official web site of the University of Southampton. Thus, this source is considered to be credible. The investigation does not suggest a biased attitude of the researchers to the participants of the study.

The authors investigated the methodology of just-in-time intervention that can modify participants’ behavior and lower emotional eating. They conducted three studies. The first two involved the use of mobile phone applications for tracking food consumption, mood, and obtained interventions. These studies showed that 50 % of participants eat when they feel stress (Caroll et al. 1). Moreover, the authors found out that the participants are more interested in personalized interventions than in pre-determined strategies (Caroll et al. 1). This study fits in the overall context of the casebook because it shows the connection between stress and emotional eating and shows how the modern technologies can be used to determine the psychological causes of emotional eating by using mobile and wearable systems. It shows that development of the individual interventions will be more appealing to the participants. The article makes one consider modern technologies that can be used to determine emotions of both men and women during emotional eating.

The next source is titled “Dealing with Problematic Eating Behavior. The Effects of Mindfulness-based Intervention on Eating Behavior, Food Carvings, Dichotomous Thinking and Body Image Concern.” The authors are H. Alberts (an assistant professor), R. Thwissen, and L. Raes (an assistant professor) of Maastricht University. Notably, the authors have credentials of the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience in Maastricht University. The article was found on the official web site of the University. Thus, it is considered to be credible. No evidence of biased attitude was found.

The researchers established the 8-week mindfulness-based intervention program. They studied the behavior of 26 women who suffered from the eating disorder. This intervention aims to increase awareness of physical and psychological determinants of eating in the absence of hunger (Alberts et al. 847). This article proves that mindfulness intervention can lead to lower food carvings, body image concern, external and emotional eating. This article fits into the overall casebook because it describes the effective program of overcoming emotional eating. Considering this work, it is only logical to ponder whether this mindfulness intervention will be effective in the larger groups of participants.


The judgment of the article “Happy Eating: The Understanding Role of Overeating in a Positive Mood” is based on the solid facts. The research studied 87 psychology students at Maastricht University. It determined the connection between the positive mood and the consumption of calorific food and the improvement of the participants’ mood immediately after the consumption: “the more calories participants ate in the first 5 min of tasting, the better their mood was” (Bongers et al. 74). This connection proves that overcoming emotional eating can be performed by mood melioration (management of both positive and negative emotions)

Notably, prior to the performance of the study, the authors believed that emotional eaters will consume more food than non-emotional eaters when they have positive or negative mood. This opinion was presented persuasively because it was based on the numerous researches, which supported it. At the same time, the authors presented profound refutation of the opposing views. They used rhetorical appeals of the inductive reasoning by describing the great variety of reliable studies concerning the connection between personal emotions and overeating. The opinion stated above was formed on the thorough analysis of the findings of these studies.

The relevance of the research “Body Image Change and Improved Eating Self-regulation in a Weight Management Intervention in Women” can be judged on the factual basis. The authors researched the influence of the self-perception on overcoming emotional eating on the example of 239 female participants (Carraca et al. 1). They stated that in the end of the twelve-month intervention, the improved personal body image lead to increasing of self-control over nutrition, overcoming the emotional eating, and loss of weight.

The initial opinions of the authors concerning the connection between self-perception and emotional eating are considered to be partly persuasive. On the one hand, the authors presented findings of numerous researches, which supported their claim. On the other hand, no opposing opinions were noted in this research.

The rhetorical appeal of authors is based on the deductive reasoning. They start their research with the general information concerning the causes of excessive weight and obesity and then address the specific role of self-perception in the emotional eating. Notably, this work is based on the numerous reliable sources, which reflect on the issue of obesity and methods of its addressing.

The clinical study “Mindfulness Intervention for Stress Eating to Reduce Cortisol and Abdominal Fat Among Overweight and Obese Women: An Explanatory Randomized controlled Study” researched the case of 47 overweight and obese women. It should be noted that the authors claimed that a mindfulness program can help to manage stress eating on the background of various researches. The persuasiveness of this claim is not wholly evident. No opposing researches were noted in this article.

The deductive reasoning of the rhetorical appeal begins with the general information concerning the influence of the chronic psychological stress on the abdominal adiposity. Then authors showed the link between poor awareness of the personal psychological state and inability to determine emotional arousal to hunger. This information was used for understanding of the way mindfulness intervention can be effective in overcoming emotional eating.
The figures of the study titled “Food and Mood: Just-in-time Support for Emotional Eating” showed that 6 out of 12 participants engage into emotional eating under stressful conditions. Also, this work shows that women’s brassieres detected emotions of women who took part in this research, namely “arousal at 75 % and valence at 72.62 %” (Caroll et al. p.6).

To my mind, the presented opinions are partly persuasive because the authors provide examples of researches, which support their investigations. No information concerning opposing ideas or studies was given in this article. The rhetorical appeals are presented in the form of deductive reasoning. The authors start from the general description of the application of persuasive health technologies and evidence that some individuals eat because of the non-homeostatic reasons. Then, they applied this information in the specific case: the use of persuasive devices for behavior modification and overcoming emotional eating.

In the next source, “Dealing with Problematic Eating Behavior. The Effects of Mindfulness-based Intervention on Eating Behavior, Food Carvings, Dichotomous Thinking and Body Image Concern”, the researchers thoroughly examined and analyzed the results of 26 participants. They provided accurate calculations, which proved that their intervention was effective. It leads to the increase of mindfulness, lowering of the amount of external and emotional eating, decreasing of body image concern, and decreasing of dichotomous thinking.

The authors based their initial opinion concerning the effectiveness of mindfulness-based intervention on the numerous studies which support this idea. However, no research that opposes this opinion is presented in the work. Hence, the opinions are presented partly persuasively. Notably, the authors use rhetorical appeals in the form of deductive reasoning. They started their research providing general information concerning eating behaviors, body image concerns, dichotomous thinking and then linked this information to the mindfulness-based intervention.


The major issue that is addressed in the work is overcoming emotional eating. The development of the effective intervention directed on the solution of this issue is impossible without finding clear answers to several questions. These questions consider to what extent the emotional eating is connected with the positive and negative mood; whether emotional eating is the result of stress and personal disappointment; whether the improvement of the personal ability to manage emotions can lead to lowering of emotional eating; what emotions people feel when they eat fat food; how the body image is connected to emotional eating. Furthermore, it is important to learn whether improvement of self-perception and mindfulness program for stress eating lead to overcoming emotional eating; what other factors associated with the problematic eating behavior can be improved by the mindfulness-based intervention: or whether personal emotions can be measured and managed by means of modern technological solutions.
There are several strong and weak positions of this work concerning addressing the issue of emotional eating. Some researchers affirm that only positive emotions can influence emotional eating. Hence, only they should be considered during the development of the strategies of overcoming this issue. The others state than negative emotions can also cause emotional nutrition. Consequently, eating behaviors should be addressed by helping people to manage their bad mood and stress.

To my mind, the first position is weaker. Bongers et al. used rather small group to determine the connection between positive, negative, and neutral mood and overeating. They induced positive and negative mood “by means of movie excerpts” in special laboratory (Bongers et al. 75). The outcomes of the study showed “a significant increase in food intake of the emotional eaters in the positive conditions compared to the neutral and negative” (Bongers et al. 74). In my opinion, the relevance of these findings is rather weak because of the several aspects of this study.

Participants may feel observed and uncomfortable in laboratory. This feeling may prevent them from overeating. Moreover, there was no non-eating control group. Consequently, the researchers were not able to compare the indicators of eating behavior and emotions, analyze the data, and prove their findings. The additional attention should be paid to the fact that no hunger measurements were performed during the study (Bongers et al. 79). However, hunger can also influence food intake. All these aspects of the study create doubts concerning its relevance and show the necessity of additional investigation of the connection between positive mood and emotional eating. Both positive and negative emotions influence overeating and should be taken into consideration during the strategy development of overcoming this issue. The study that proves the link of positive emotions to emotional eating is discussed in the previous paragraph. The opinion that people consume more food when they suffer from chronic psychological stress is supported by the works on mindfulness-based intervention directed on the management of negative emotions and stress. Negative emotions caused by dissatisfaction with body image can facilitate emotional eating, and “the body image experiences predict the severity of problematic eating patterns…poor body image as a precursor of the adoption of dysfunctional eating behaviors” (Carrica et al.1).

This statement is supported by evidence of the effectiveness of interventions directed on the overcoming of emotional eating by improving body image and self-perception. The positive effect of mindfulness intervention on dichotomous thinking that caused lowering of emotional eating is described in the study prepared by Alberts H., Thewissen R., and Raes L.. Moreover, the authors of the article titled “Mindfulness Intervention for Stress Eating to Reduce Cortisol and Abdominal Fat Among Overweight and Obese Women: An Explanatory Randomized Controlled Study” provided evidence from various studies of people consuming more food when they have chronic psychological stresses. They noted the following: “psychological stress can also trigger consumption of high fat and sweet food, leading to overall weight gain” (Daubenmier et al. 2). Their research proved that “participants who reported the greatest improvement in mindfulness, responsiveness, the body sensations, and chronic stress had the largest reduction of abdominal fat” and patterns of emotional eating (Daubenmier et al. 10). Consequently, the opinion that both positive and negative emotions influence eating behavior and should be addressed during development of overcoming emotional eating interventions for obtaining the greater results is considered to be stronger.