Moderation of Mood in the Transfer of Self-Regulation From an Exercise to an Eating Context: Short- and Long-Term Effects on Dietary Change and Obesity in Women

James J. Annesi, Kennesaw State University


Background Behavioral obesity treatments require an improved understanding of the dynamics of associated psychological changes. This study aimed to clarify previous research on self-regulatory skills’ transfer from an exercise to eating context, effects of mood on self-regulatory strength, and related effects on a targeted eating behavior. Methods Women with obesity participated in a yearlong community-based cognitive-behavioral treatment that first focused on self-regulatory skills development for exercise maintenance, then use of similar self-regulatory skills and improved mood to facilitate short- and long-term increases in fruit/vegetable intake and reduction in weight. Groups were based on high (≥ 5% of baseline weight; n = 51) and low (< 5%; n = 49) weight reduction 2 years post-initiation. Results Improvements in eating self-regulation and fruit/vegetable intake were greatest in the high weight-reduction group. Using lagged variable analyses to assess directionality, mood significantly moderated the prediction of eating self-regulation change by exercise self-regulation change. The effect of increased exercise self-regulation on fruit/vegetable intake change over 6 months was significantly mediated by eating self-regulation change. Participants’ initial weight moderated the effect of eating self-regulation change on fruit/vegetable intake. Change in eating self-regulation over 6 months predicted self-regulation at 24 months. Short-term change in fruit/vegetable intake predicted weight change over 2 years through its association with long-term fruit/vegetable consumption. Conclusions Findings supported the expected carry-over of self-regulation from an exercise to eating context, mood effects on self-regulatory strength, and associations of exercise with eating and weight changes via effects on psychological variables. Results have implications for sustained effects associated with behavioral treatments.