Reappraise the Situation but Express Your Emotions: Impact of Emotion Regulation Strategies on ad libitum Food Intake

Front Psychol. 2012 Sep 25:3:359. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00359. eCollection 2012.


Research investigating the role of maladaptive emotion regulation (ER) on food intake has exclusively focused on food intake in a forced consumption situation. In contrast, the present study examined the effect of negative emotions (fear, negative affect) and ER strategies (suppression, reappraisal) on food intake in a non-forced, free eating setting where participants (N = 165) could choose whether and how much they ate. This free (ad libitum) eating approach enabled, for the first time, the testing of (1) whether eating (yes/no) is used as a secondary ER strategy and (2) whether the amount of food intake differed, depending on the ER strategy. In order to produce a more ecologically valid design, ER strategy manipulation was realized while exposing participants to emotion induction procedures. To induce an initial negative emotional state, a movie clip was presented without ER instruction. The instructions to regulate emotions (suppression, reappraisal, no ER instruction) then preceded a second clip. The results show that whereas about two-thirds of the control (no ER instruction) and suppression groups began to eat, only one-third of the reappraisal group did. However, when reappraisers began to eat, they ate as much as participants in the suppression and control groups. Accordingly, the results suggest that when people are confronted with a negative event, eating is used as a secondary coping strategy when the enacted ER is ineffective. Conversely, an adaptive ER such as reappraisal decreases the likelihood of eating in the first place, even when ER is employed during rather than before the unfolding of the negative event. Consequently, the way we deal with negative emotions might be more relevant for explaining emotional eating than the distress itself.

Keywords: emotion regulation; emotional eating; food intake; reappraisal; suppression.