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Comfort eating: An observational study of affect in the hours immediately before, and after, snacking

Franja, S, Wahl, DR, Elliston, KG ORCID: 0000-0002-7727-366X and Ferguson, SG ORCID: 0000-0001-7378-3497 2021 , 'Comfort eating: An observational study of affect in the hours immediately before, and after, snacking' , British Journal of Health Psychology , pp. 1-14 , doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12505.

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Objective: ‘Comfort eating’ has been used to explain real-world food choices,suggesting that individuals are drawn to energy-dense (‘unhealthy’) snacks whenexperiencing negative affect. However, this concept has rarely been studied, particularlyin real-world settings. Similarly, the effects of snacking on subsequent affect are alsopoorly understood. The present study aimed to examine the association between affectand snacking in daily life.Methods: One hundred and forty-one adults recorded their food intake in real time for~14 days using a study issued mobile phone. Participants also responded to randomlytimed assessments. During both types of assessments, participants indicated their currentlevel of affect. By anchoring off snacking events, the trajectory of affect in the hours leadingup to – and following – snacking was explored.Results: In the three hours leading up to a healthy snack, affect was stable. In contrast,affect fell during the hours leading up to an unhealthy snack. The interaction betweensnack type and time was significant. A similar, but opposite, pattern was seen followingsnacking: where affect decreased after unhealthy snacking, affect increased followinghealthy snack intake.Conclusion: The findings are consistent with the hypothesis of comfort eating, withunhealthy snacking being preceded by worsening affect. Unhealthy snacking did not,however, lead to affect improvements afterwards, which questions the ‘effectiveness’ ofcomfort eating. The intake of healthy snacks however was associated with positiveaffective experiences. These findings could function as a component of interventionsaiming at improving dietary behaviours.

Item Type: Article
Authors/Creators:Franja, S and Wahl, DR and Elliston, KG and Ferguson, SG
Keywords: affect, comfort eating, eating behaviour, ecological momentary assessment, food choice
Journal or Publication Title: British Journal of Health Psychology
Publisher: British Psychological Soc
ISSN: 1359-107X
DOI / ID Number: 10.1111/bjhp.12505
Copyright Information:

© 2021 The British Psychological Society

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