Measuring Emotional Eating

Arnow and colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine developed a scale to use as a tool to study emotional eating behavior and to learn from people who struggle with overeating. The scale measures the relationship between emotions and urges to eat, but not emotions and actual eating behavior. Take a moment now to complete the adapted version of this scale, called the Desire to Eat Scale, provided here.

The Desire to Eat Scale does not have a numerical score, yet it can be an effective tool for evaluating your emotional eating behavior. The first step is to complete the scale now. After you have completed the scale, try to maintain a regular pattern of eating three balanced meals and two to three snacks each day for the next week. The next step is to once again complete the Desire to Eat Scale and compare your responses. Notice whether your urges to eat have decreased in response to these emotions. The final step is to try to maintain this regular eating pattern for a month and, once again, complete the Desire to Eat Scale. Compare your responses with your earlier answers. If your urges to eat have decreased, this is evidence that reducing chronic dieting and hunger helps you to manage your emotional eating.

Summary

Overall, most scientific theories of eating and overweight have oversimplified or neglected emotional eating. Today, we know that emotions, particularly anxiety, influence urges to eat and eating behavior. In particular, chronic dieters appear to be most susceptible to overeating when experiencing anxiety, especially when hungry. Individuals who are chronic dieters and who also have trouble with overeating may be able to prevent overeating in response to anxiety by not allowing themselves to become too hungry. Maintaining a regular pattern of eating three meals and two to three snacks that are spread evenly throughout the day may help these individuals avoid overeating when hunger and anxiety are high.

Associate research scientist and assistant clinical professor in the Eating Disorder Program and Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine. Her primary research and clinical interest is the area of eating disorders.

Assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and has a private practice in New Haven, Connecticut. She specializes in the treatment and research of anxiety and mood disorders.

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