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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Comfort eating, psychological stress, and depressive symptoms in young adult women

  • Author(s): Finch, LE
  • Tomiyama, AJ
  • et al.

© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. Little is known about whether comfort eating actually functions to reduce psychological stress. In addition, the effectiveness of comfort eating may be particularly relevant in the context of depression, but no study has tested whether comfort eating processes might depend on severity of depressive symptomology. This study tested 1) whether greater comfort eating statistically buffers the relationship between adverse life events and perceived psychological stress at age 18-19, and 2) whether potential stress-buffering effects may differ by level of depressive symptoms. These relationships were examined in the NHLBI Growth and Health Study, comprising 2379 young adult women. Participants self-reported experiences with adverse life events, their perceived psychological stress, and whether they tended to eat more while experiencing certain negative emotions. As hypothesized, the relationship between adverse life events and perceived stress depended on comfort eating status (p = .033). The effect of adverse events on perceived stress was attenuated among comfort eaters compared to non-comfort eaters (p = .004), but this buffering effect was not shown in participants with an elevated level of depressive symptoms. In conclusion, among young adult women without high depressive symptoms, comfort eaters may experience reduced perceived stress compared to those who do not engage in this behavior. Intervention researchers should also consider the possible benefits of comfort eating.

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