Journal article Open Access

Does stress eat away at you or make you eat? EMA measures of stress predict day to day food craving and perceived food intake as a function of trait stress-eating

Reichenberger, Julia; Pannicke, Björn; Arend, Ann-Kathrin; Petrowski, Katja; Blechert, Jens

Eating behaviour can be driven by non-homeostatic factors like stress. Both increased and decreased food intake in response to stress has been documented, but it has remained difficult to identify a trait that predicts who shows either pattern. Thus, we collected naturalistic data from Ecological Momentary Assessment in combination with the trait-level Salzburg Stress Eating Scale (SSES). In study 1, 97 individuals completed the SSES and 6 daily reports about stress, food craving and perceived food intake across 8 days, whereas in study 2, 83 diet-interested participants completed the same measures at 4 daily prompts across 14 days. Consistent across both studies, multilevel modelling revealed that participants with high SSES-scores showed relatively more positive intra-day stress-craving relationships than those with low SSES-scores. On the day level, stress also predicted perceived food intake as a function of SSES-scores. Controlling for negative affect did not alter results. Results support an individual difference model of stress-eating where decrease vs increase of eating depends on SSES-scores. In affected individuals stress influences simultaneous food craving but might exhibit cumulative or delayed effects on food intake. Furthermore, the SSES provides a valid instrument for identifying at risk individuals and for tailoring interventions.

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