Carrying around excess weight means an increased risk for many health problems such as knee pain, sleep apnea, heart disease, strokes, and diabetes. While negative emotions are associated with increased food consumption and unhealthy food choice, positive emotions are linked to an even greater degree of overeating in adults.


For many adults, maintaining a healthy weight is a struggle. The link between negative emotions, particularly stress and depression, and atypical eating behaviour is well researched.  However, the potential of other emotions to augment or undermine weight loss efforts is less clear.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, researchers conducted a review of the literature on how emotions can alter normal eating behaviour. They searched four databases (PsycINFO, Medline, the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, and SPORTDiscus) to find empirical data on the link between emotions and eating behaviour in adults.  Of the 243articles found, only 29 met the criteria for inclusion.

These 29 studies were systematically reviewed.  It was found that chronic stress was the most commonly researched negative emotion, although depression, boredom, shame, and anger were also investigated.  All these negative emotions were associated with increased food consumption. In addition, these emotions frequently elicited unhealthy food choices.  Interestingly, the analysis of the existing literature also revealed that adults generally eat more when experiencing positive emotions. This may be because happy occasions such as birthdays, promotions, weddings, family reunions, or religious holidays are often celebrated with plentiful and rich foods.

This study points to the importance of examining how both positive and negative emotions affect eating behaviour.  While research quality depends on the accuracy of emotion and food intake reporting, understanding the link between emotions and eating patterns will aid in the development of effective weight loss interventions and the promotion of better overall health.


Written By: Debra A. Kellen, PhD

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