• overeating;
  • overweight control;
  • coping;
  • stressors;
  • stress;
  • strategies;
  • nutrition;
  • women’s health;
  • self-care;
  • affect regulation

Eating as both coping and stressor in overweight control

Aim. The aim of this study was to test a conceptual model proposing that stress evokes eating as coping, that eating then becomes a stressor in itself, and that a coping repertoire specific for overeating is required to moderate its yield of negative mood states.

Background. It is known that stressors may evoke eating as a coping response, and that some persons respond to lapses in their dietary regimen with depression and self-criticism. These two findings are linked within the context of a stress and coping paradigm that has in the past been applied to the study of substance abuse.

Method. A survey of 79 women who reported overeating was implemented, including the administration of five instruments and a telephone interview.

Findings. Over 43% of the variance in the dependent variable, negative mood states, was explained by hierarchical regression of the independent variables, entered sequentially as exemplars of: social stressors, coping, degree of required calorie consumption, use of overweight control strategies and the interaction between the degree of required weekly calorie consumption and use of overweight control strategies. Significant contributions were made by variables denoting stressors, coping, and the interaction between degree of required calorie consumption and use of overweight control strategies. Of particular interest was the suggestion that for individuals who frequently use strategies to control overeating and overweight, eating may produce negative mood states. Individuals intensively involved in efforts to control their weight may be vulnerable for dysphoria, may require unique nursing interventions, and thus deserve continued study in this context.