Food consumption in stressful situations vary as a function of individual difference factors (e.g., emotional vs. non-emotional eating), and may be related to hormonal responses elicited by the stressful event. These hormonal responses may be tied to specific emotions elicited by the stressful event. The present investigation examined the emotional and hormonal (cortisol, ghrelin) responses of high and low emotional eaters following a laboratory stressor (Trier Social Stress Test; TSST). Women (n=48) either high or low in emotional eating status were tested in a TSST or served as controls during which blood samples were taken for analysis of cortisol and ghrelin, both of which have been implicated in eating and in response to stressors. The TSST promoted elevated cortisol levels, being somewhat more pronounced in emotional than in non-emotional eaters. Both shame and anger were provoked by the TSST, and although both these emotions were correlated with cortisol levels, only anger significantly mediated the relationship between the stressor and cortisol levels. As well, baseline ghrelin levels in low emotional eaters exceeded that of high emotional eaters, and increased moderately in response to the stressor situation, irrespective of emotional eating status. Interestingly, when provided with food, ghrelin levels declined in the non-emotional eaters, but not in emotional eaters. The possibility is offered that the lack of a decline of ghrelin in emotional eaters may sustain eating in these individuals.
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