Mediation of Self-Regulation and Mood in the Relationship of Changes in High Emotional Eating and Nutritional Behaviors: Moderating Effects of Physical Activity
High emotional eating (EE) is prevalent in women with obesity. A previous study's subsample of obese women classified as high emotional eaters participated in either a physical activity-focused experimental (n = 29) or an educationally focused comparison (n = 22) behavioral treatment and was assessed over phases of expected weight loss (baseline–month 6) and short- and long-term regain (months 6–12 and 6–24, respectively). The study's aim was to assess theory-based psychological and behavioral mediation and moderation of changes in nutritional behaviors via emotional eating change in order to inform behavioral weight-loss treatments. During the weight-loss phase, significant improvements in eating self-regulation and mood significantly mediated the relationship of reduced EE and intake of both fruits and vegetables (FV) and sweets. Self-regulation was a significant independent mediator. Physical activity significantly moderated the relationship between EE and self-regulation changes. All variables demonstrated large positive effects and significant time × group interactions favoring the experimental group. During the short and long-term phases of expected weight regain, there were no significant changes in FV intake, although consumption of sweets significantly increased during months 6–24. Change in FV and sweets significantly predicted weight change, which was significantly greater in the experimental vs. comparison group over both the initial 6 months (−6.1% vs. −2.6%) and full 24 months of the study (−7.6% vs. −1.3%). Findings suggest that behavioral treatments should address EE through improvements in self-regulation and mood, and supported physical activity will aid in that process. The need for an improved understanding of weight-loss maintenance remains.