Emotional eating is a considerable problem in women, and holds a great risk for obesity. Negative mood has been identified as a predictor of emotional eating, and vice versa. However, associated research has generally been cross-sectional, lacking sensitivity to dynamic changes and interactions occurring in psychological variables during a behavioral obesity treatment. The aim of the present study was to assess if physical activity-associated improvement in mood is significantly related to a subsequent reduction in emotional eating in women, and whether a reciprocal relationship is also present. Because improved mood has been posited to positively impact self-regulation, and physical activity-related self-regulation has been shown to transfer to eating-related self-regulation, they were also tested as possible mediators of mood-emotional eating relationships. A treatment focused on physical activity and self-regulation (n = 57) demonstrated greater improvements in mood, emotional eating, physical activity- and eating-related self-regulation, and physical activity than a treatment with a more typical focus on primarily providing information on healthy eating (n = 57). Reduction in negative mood over 3 months significantly predicted a 6-month reduction in emotional eating, and vice versa (i.e., a reciprocal relationship). Models with sequential entry of changes in physical activity-related self-regulation, then eating-related self-regulation, as mediators were significant. However, paths through the self-regulation changes were significant only in the model where change in mood predicted emotional eating change. Findings supported the role of physical activity in mood change, and the benefits of also addressing self-regulatory skills development within behavioral obesity treatments so that emotional eating is reduced.
Keywords: Behavioral treatment; Emotional eating; Mood; Obesity; Physical activity; Self-regulation.
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