Stress-related eating may be a potential factor in the obesity epidemic. Rather little is known about how stress associates with eating behavior and food intake in overweight individuals in a free-living situation. Thus, the present study aims to investigate this question in psychologically distressed overweight and obese working-aged Finns.
The study is a cross-sectional baseline analysis of a randomized controlled trial. Of the 339 study participants, those with all the needed data available (n = 297, 84% females) were included. The mean age was 48.9 y (SD = 7.6) and mean body mass index 31.3 kg/m2 (SD = 3.0). Perceived stress and eating behavior were assessed by self-reported questionnaires Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), Intuitive Eating Scale, the Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire, Health and Taste Attitude Scales and ecSatter Inventory. Diet and alcohol consumption were assessed by 48-h dietary recall, Index of Diet Quality, and AUDIT-C.
Individuals reporting most perceived stress (i.e. in the highest PSS tertile) had less intuitive eating, more uncontrolled eating, and more emotional eating compared to those reporting less perceived stress (p < 0.05). Moreover, individuals in the highest PSS tertile reported less cognitive restraint and less eating competence than those in the lowest tertile (p < 0.05). Intake of whole grain products was the lowest among those in the highest PSS tertile (p < 0.05). Otherwise the quality of diet and alcohol consumption did not differ among the PSS tertiles.
In conclusion, high perceived stress was associated with the features of eating behavior that could in turn contribute to difficulties in weight management. Stress-related way of eating could thus form a potential risk factor for obesity. More research is needed to develop efficient methods for clinicians to assist in handling stress-related eating in the treatment of obese people.