Negative emotions and emotional eating: the mediating role of experiential avoidance



Emotional eating is a risk factor for eating pathology across the life- and weight-span. Research demonstrates that negative emotions are a precipitant of emotional eating, particularly among female college students. However, the underlying factors that explain this relationship are unclear. Experiential avoidance, a propensity toward being unwilling to remain in contact with aversive private experiences, may explain the association between negative emotions and emotional eating. The purpose of this study was to examine whether experiential avoidance would mediate the association between negative emotions and emotional eating.


A sample of 132 women (17.4 % African American, 59.8 % White) completed measures of mood, experiential avoidance and emotional eating. Bias-corrected bootstrapping mediational analyses were conducted.


Experiential avoidance mediated the relationship between negative emotions and emotional eating b = −0.21, 95 % BC CI [−0.43, −0.07]. The indirect effect through experiential avoidance accounted for 9 % of the variance, which represents a medium effect (k 2 = 0.09, 95 % BC CI [0.03, 0.18]).


Results suggest that experiential avoidance is important for understanding the relationship between negative emotions and emotional eating and may inform potential strategies for prevention and treatment.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Arnow B, Kenardy J, Agras W (1995) The Emotional Eating Scale: the development of a measure to assess coping with negative affect by eating. Int J Eat Disord 18:79–90. doi:10.1002/1098-108X

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    American Psychiatric Association (2000) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th edn, text revision. American Psychiatric Association, Washington, DC

  3. 3.

    American Psychiatric Association (2013) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 5th edn. American Psychiatric Publishing, Arlington

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Lindeman M, Stark K (2001) Emotional eating and eating disorder psychopathology. Eat Disord 9:251–259. doi:10.1080/10640260127552

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Evers C, Stok F, Ridder D (2010) Feeding your feelings: emotion regulation strategies and emotional eating. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 36:792–804. doi:10.1177/0146167210371383

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    van-Strien T, Frijters J, Roosen R, Knuiman-Hijl W, Defares P (1985) Eating behavior, personality traits and body mass in women. Addict Behav 10:333–343. doi:10.1016/0306-4603(85)90029-2

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Vandewalle J, Moens E, Beyers W, Braet C (2016) Can we link emotional eating with the emotion regulation skills of adolescents? Psychol Health. doi:10.1080/08870446.2016.1149586

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Ganley R (1989) Emotion and eating in obesity: a review of the literature. Int J Eat Disord 8:343–361

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Greeno C, Wing R (1994) Stress-induced eating. Psychol Bull 115:444–464. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.115.3.444

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Oliver G, Wardle J, Gibson E (2000) Stress and food choice: a laboratory study. J Biobehav Med 62:853–865

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Annesi JJ, Mareno N, McEwen K (2016) Psychosocial predictors of emotional eating and their weight-loss treatment-induced changes in women with obesity. Eat Weight Disord 21:289–295. doi:10.1007/s40519-015-0209-9

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Ricca V, Castellini G, Fioravanti G, Sauro C, Rotella F, Ravaldi C, Lazzeretti L, Faravelli C (2012) Emotional eating in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Compr Psychiatry 53:245–251. doi:10.1016/j.comppsych.2011.04.062

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Fairburn C, Bohn K (2005) Eating disorder NOS (EDNOS): an example of the troublesome “not otherwise specified” (NOS) category of the DSM-IV. Behav Res Ther 43:691–701. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2004.06.011

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Klainberg M, Ewing B, Ryan M (2010) Reducing stress on a college campus. J N Y State Nurses Assoc 1:1–7

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Eisenberg D, Nicklett E, Roader K, Kirtz N (2011) Eating disorder symptoms among college students: prevalence, persistence, correlates, and treatment-seeking. J Am Coll Health 59:700–707

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Mills J, Polivy J, McFarlane T, Crosby R (2012) The natural course of eating pathology in female university students. Eat Behav 13:297–304. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2012.07.005

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    American College Health Association (2009) American College Health Association—National College Health Assessment Spring 2008 reference group data report. J Am Coll Health 57:469–479

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Lowe M, Annunziato R, Markowtiz J, Didie E, Bellace D, Riddell L, Stice E (2006) Multiple types of dieting prospectively predict weight gain during the freshman year of college. Appetite 47:83–90. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2006.03.160

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Stice E, Shaw H (2004) Eating disorder prevention programs: a meta-analytic review. Psychol Bull 130:206–227. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.130.2.206

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Pinaquy S, Chabrol H, Simon C, Louvet J, Barbe P (2003) Emotional eating, alexithymia, and binge-eating disorder in obese women. Obes Res 11:195–201. doi:10.1038/oby.2003.31

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Racine S, Keel P, Burt S, Sisk C, Neale M, Boker S, Klump K (2013) Exploring the relationship between negative urgency and dysregulated eating: etiologic associations and the role of negative affect. J Abnorm Psychol 122:433–444. doi:10.1037/a0031250

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Gross J (2007) Handbook of emotion regulation. Guildford Press, New York

  23. 23.

    Spoor S, Bekker M, van Strein T, Heck G (2007) Relations between negative affect, coping, and emotional eating. Appetite 48:368–376. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2006.10.005

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Haedt-Matt A, Keel P (2011) Revisiting the affect regulation model of binge eating: a meta-analysis of studies using ecological momentary assessment. Psychol Bull 137:660–681. doi:10.1037/a0023660

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Haedt-Matt A, Keel P, Racine S, Burt S, Hu J, Boker S, Klump K (2014) Do emotional eating urges regulate affect? Concurrent and prospective associations and implications for risk models of binge eating. Int J Eat Disord. doi:10.1002/eat.22247

  26. 26.

    Polivy J, Herman CP (1993) Etiology of binge eating: psychological mechanisms. In: Fairburn CG, Wilson GT (eds) Binge eating: nature, assessment, and treatment. Guilford Press, New York, pp 173–205

  27. 27.

    Hawkins RC, Clement PF (1984) Binge eating: measurement problems and a conceptual model. In: Hawkins RC, Fremouw WJ, Clement PF (eds) The binge purge syndrome: diagnosis, treatment, and research. Springer, New York, pp 229–251

    Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    van Strien T, Konttinen H, Homberg J, Engels R, Winkens L (2016) Emotional eating as a mediator between depression and weight gain. Appetite 100:216–224. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.02.034

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Hayes S, Wilson K, Gifford E, Follette V, Strosahl K (1996) Experiential avoidance and behavioral disorders: a functional dimensional approach to diagnosis and treatment. J Consult Clin Psychol 64:1152–1168. doi:10.1037/0022006X.64.6.1152

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Hayes S, Strosahl K, Wilson KG (1999) Acceptance and commitment therapy: an experiential approach to behavior change. Guilford Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Folkman S, Lazarus RS, Gruen RJ, DeLongis A (1986) Appraisal, coping, health status, and psychological symptoms. J Personal Soc Psychol 50:571–579

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Karekla M, Panayiotou G (2011) Coping and experiential avoidance: unique or overlapping constructs? J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry 42:163–170. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2010.10.002

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Kashdan T, Barrios V, Forsyth J, Steger M (2006) Experiential avoidance as a generalized psychological vulnerability: comparisons with coping and emotion regulation strategies. Behav Res Ther 44:1301–1320. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2005.10.003

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Hayes S, Strosahl K, Wilson KG (2012) Acceptance and commitment therapy: an experiential approach to behavior change, 2nd edn. Guilford Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Fledderus M, Bohlmeijer E, Pieterse M (2010) Does experiential avoidance mediate the effects of maladaptive coping styles on psychopathology and mental health. Behav Modif 34:503–519. doi:10.1177/0145445510378379

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Rawal A, Park RJ, Williams JMG (2010) Rumination, experiential avoidance, and dysfunctional thinking in eating disorders. Behav Res Ther 48:851–859. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2010.05.009

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Hayes S, Luoma J, Bond F, Masuda A, Lillis J (2006) Acceptance and commitment therapy: model, processes and outcomes. Behav Res Ther 44:1–25. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2005.06.006

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Cowdrey F, Park R (2012) The role of experiential avoidance, rumination, and mindfulness in eating disorders. Eat Behav 13:100–105. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2012.01.001

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Hayaki J (2009) Negative reinforcement eating expectancies, emotion dysregulation, and symptoms of bulimia nervosa. Int J Eat Disord 42:552–556. doi:10.1002/eat.20646

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Forman E, Butryn M, Hoffman K, Herbert J (2009) An open trial of acceptance-based behavioral intervention for weight loss. Cogn Behav Pract 16:223–235. doi:10.1016/j.cbpra.2008.09.005

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Kingston J, Clarke S, Reminginton B (2010) Experiential avoidance and problematic behavior: a mediation analysis. Behav Modif 34:145–163. doi:10.1177/0145445510362575

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Mendes AL, Ferreira C, Marta-Simoes J (2016) Experiential avoidance versus decentering abilities: the role of different emotional processes on disordered eating. Eat Weight Disord. doi:10.1007/s40519-016-0291-7

  43. 43.

    Evers C, Adriaanse M, Ridder D, Huberts J (2013) Good mood food. Positive emotion as a neglected trigger for food intake. Appetite 68:1–7. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2013.04.007

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Watson D, Clark LA, Tellegen A (1988) Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: the PANAS scales. J Pers Soc Psychol 54:1063–1070. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.54.6.1063

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Gamez W, Chmielewski M, Ruggero C, Kotov R, Watson D (2011) Development of a measure of experiential avoidance: the multidimensional experiential avoidance questionnaire. Psychol Assess 23:692–713. doi:10.1037/a0023242

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Bond FW, Hayes SC, Baer RA, Carpenter KC, Guenole N, Orcutt HK, Waltz T, Zettle RD (2011) Preliminary psychometric properties of the acceptance and action questionnaire–II: a revised measure of psychological flexibility and acceptance. Behav Ther 42:676–688. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2011.03.007

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Ozier A, Kendrick O, Knol L, Leeper J, Perko M, Burnham J (2007) The EADES (Eating and Appraisal Due to Emotions and Stress) Questionnaire: development and validation. J Am Diet Assoc 107:619–628. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2007.01.004

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Keith TZ (2006) Multiple regression and beyond. Allyn & Bacon, Boston

    Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Hayes K (2013) Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis. Guilford Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Baron RM, Kenny DA (1986) The moderator–mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. J Pers Soc Psychol 51:1173–1182. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.51.6.1173

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    MacKinnon D, Lockwood C, Williams J (2004) Confidence limits for the indirect effect: distribution of the product and resampling methods. Multivar Behav Res 39:99–128. doi:10.1207/s15327906mbr3901_4

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Preacher K, Hayes A (2008) Asymptotic and resampling strategies for assessing and comparing indirect effects in multiple mediator models. Behav Res Methods 40:879–891. doi:10.3758/BRM.40.3.879

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Preacher K, Hayes A (2004) SPSS and SAS procedures for estimating indirect effects in simple mediation models. Behav Res Methods Instrum Comput 36:717–731

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Ozier A, Kendrick O, Leeper J, Knol L, Perko M, Burnham J (2008) Overweight and obesity are associated with emotion- and stress-related eating as measured by the eating and appraisal due to emotions and stress questionnaire. J Am Diet Assoc 103:49–56

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Crawford J, Henry J (2004) The positive and negative affect schedule (PANAS): construct validity, measurement properties and normative data in a large non-clinical sample. Br J Clin Psychol 43:245–265

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Preacher KJ, Kelley K (2011) Effect sizes measures for mediation models: quantitative strategies for communicating indirect effects. Psychol Methods 16(2):93–115

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Safer DL, Telch CF, Chen EY (2009) Dialectical behavior therapy for binge eating and bulimia. Guilford Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Juarascio A, Shaw J, Forman E, Timko A, Herbert J, Butryn M, Lowe M (2013) Acceptance and commitment therapy as a novel treatment for eating disorders: an initial test of efficacy and mediation. Behav Modif 37:459–489. doi:10.1177/0145445513478633

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Danitz S, Orsillo S (2014) The mindful way through the semester: an investigation of the effectiveness of an acceptance-based behavioral therapy program on psychological wellness in first-year students. Behav Modif 38:549–566. doi:10.1177/0145445513520218

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Edie M. Goldbacher.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Litwin, R., Goldbacher, E.M., Cardaciotto, L. et al. Negative emotions and emotional eating: the mediating role of experiential avoidance. Eat Weight Disord 22, 97–104 (2017).

Download citation


  • Emotional eating
  • Experiential avoidance
  • Negative emotions