Relationship of Emotional Eating and Mood Changes Through Self-Regulation Within Three Behavioral Treatments for Obesity

James J. Annesi, Kennesaw State University


An enhanced understanding of the dynamics of psychosocial change processes within behavioral weight loss treatments is required to improve their generally poor results. Based on social cognitive theory, self-regulation of eating has the possibility of affecting interrelations between psychosocial correlates of inappropriate eating behaviors such as emotional eating and negative mood. Within behavioral interventions, physical activity, treatment foci, and the length of treatment might moderate those relationships. The aim of this research was to contrast intervention effects based on treatment type, and evaluate interrelations of changes in theory-based psychosocial variables. Adult females with obesity (overall Mage = 48.6 years; overall MBMI = 35.3 kg/m2) were block randomized into groups of 28 weeks of phone-supported manual-based education (Group 1, n = 52), 58 weeks of cognitive-behavioral group treatment (Group 2, n = 52), and 99 weeks of cognitive-behavioral group treatment followed by phone-based reviews of intervention materials (Group 3, n = 48). Significant improvements in measures of emotional eating, negative mood, self-regulation for controlling eating, physical activity, and body composition were found in each group over 3, 6, 12, and 24 months, with generally larger effect sizes detected in Groups 2 and 3. Reciprocal, mutually reinforcing, relationships were found between changes in emotional eating and mood, which were significantly mediated by self-regulation changes. Physical activity level significantly moderated mood changes, treatment foci on emotional eating significantly moderated changes in emotional eating, and treatment length significantly moderated long-term changes in emotional eating, but not mood. Findings support a treatment duration of at least one year that emphasizes physical activity and self-regulatory skills usage, and interrelations between changes in emotional eating, self-regulation, mood, and physical activity.