Stress-induced eating in women with binge-eating disorder and obesity

Biol Psychol. 2018 Jan:131:96-106. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2016.11.002. Epub 2016 Nov 9.


The purpose of the current study was to investigate stress-induced eating in women with binge-eating disorder (BED) and obesity. Three groups of women [obese with BED (n=9); obese non-BED (n=11); and normal weight (NW) non-BED (n=12)], rated their levels of hunger and psychological distress before and after completing the Trier Social Stress Test, followed by food anticipation and then consumption of their preferred snack food. We differentiated between the motivational and hedonic components of eating by measuring the amount of food participants poured into a serving bowl compared to the amount consumed. Stress did not affect poured and consumed calories differently between groups. Across all subjects, calories poured and consumed were positively correlated with post-stress hunger, but calories poured was positively correlated with post-stress anxiety and negative affect. These results indicate that stress-related psychological factors may be more strongly associated with the motivational drive to eat (i.e. amount poured) rather than the hedonic aspects of eating (i.e. amount consumed) for women in general. Exploratory correlation analyses per subgroup suggest that post-stress hunger was positively associated with calories poured and consumed in both non-BED groups. In the obese BED group, calories consumed was negatively associated with dietary restraint and, although not significantly, positively associated with stress-induced changes in anxiety.These findings suggest that stress-induced snacking in obese BED women may be influenced by psychological factors more so than homeostatic hunger mechanisms. After controlling for dietary restraint and negative affect, the NW non-BED women ate a greater percentage of the food they poured than both obese groups, suggesting that obesity may be associated with a heightened motivational drive to eat coupled with a reduction in hedonic pleasure from eating post-stress. Further studies that incorporate novel approaches to measuring the motivational versus hedonic aspects of stress-induced eating may expose nuanced eating behaviors that differentiate BED and obesity. If confirmed, our findings would support prevention and treatment strategies that target subsets of women based on obesity and BED status.

Keywords: Binge eating; Hunger; Obesity; Stress.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Binge-Eating Disorder / psychology*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hunger
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Young Adult