Emotional eating, rather than lifestyle behavior, drives weight gain in a prospective study in 1562 employees

J Occup Environ Med. 2011 Nov;53(11):1287-93. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31823078a2.


Objective: To examine the associations between the lifestyle factors-sports, alcohol, nutrition, overweight, and smoking, the eating styles of dietary restraint, external eating, and emotional eating on the one hand, and the change in body mass index (BMI) on the other hand.

Methods: Using a Web-based lifestyle questionnaire, responses were obtained from 1562 employees.

Results: We found a consistent main effect of emotional eating and doing sports on change in BMI. High emotional eating was related to weight gain, whereas a high level of sporting was related to weight loss. Restrained eating and external eating were not found to have a significant influence on change in BMI. Additionally, a consistent moderator effect of sporting on emotional eating was found (P < .05). The association between BMI change and emotional eating was less strong for employees with high engagement in strenuous sports compared with those with low engagement in strenuous sports. This indicates that strenuous physical activity can indeed attenuate the positive association between emotional eating and body weight gain.

Conclusion: Emotions may drive people with overweight and obesity to overeat. Sports activities may attenuate but do not solve the problem. If we want to cure the disease, psychological treatment strategies have to be developed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Emotions*
  • Exercise
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Overweight / psychology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sports
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Weight Gain / physiology*