Is comfort food actually comforting for emotional eaters? A (moderated) mediation analysis

Tatjana van Strien*, E. Leigh Gibson, Rosa Baños, Ausiàs Cebolla, Laura H.H. Winkens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


An important but unreplicated earlier finding on comfort eating was that the association between food intake and immediate mood improvement appeared to be mediated by the palatability of the food, and that this effect was more pronounced for high than for low emotional eaters [26]. This has not yet been formally tested using mediation and moderated mediation analysis. We conducted these analyses using data from two experiments on non-obese female students (n = 29 and n = 74). Mood and eating satisfaction in Study 1, and mood, tastiness and emotional eating in Study 2 were all self-reported. In Study 1, using a sad mood induction procedure, emotional eaters ate more food, and when mood was assessed immediately after food intake, ‘eating satisfaction’ acted as mediator between food intake and mood improvement (decrease in sadness or increase in happiness). In Study 2, where we measured the difference in actual food intake after a control or a stress task (modified Trier Social Stress Test), and assessed mood during the food intake after stress, we found significant moderated mediation. As expected, there was a significant positive mediation effect of tastiness between food intake and mood improvement in the high emotional eaters, but also a significant negative mediation effect of tastiness between food intake and mood improvement in the low emotional eaters. This suggests that tastiness promotes ‘comfort’ from food in female emotional eaters, but conflicts in non-emotional eaters with a tendency to eat less when stressed. In conclusion, palatable food may indeed provide comfort specifically for high emotional eaters during eating.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112671
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Early online date1 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


Study 1 was funded in part by the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (Plan Nacional de Investigación Científica, Desarrollo e Innovación Tecnológica 2008–2011) in the Project ( PSI2008-04392/PSIC ). Funding of L.H.H. Winkens was provided by the European Union FP7 MoodFood Project ‘Multi-country collaborative project on the role of Diet, Food-related behaviour, and Obesity in the prevention of Depression’ (grant agreement no. 613598 ).

FundersFunder number
European Union FP7 MooDFOOD613598
European Union FP7 MoodFood Project ?
Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovaci?n
Ministerio de Ciencia e InnovaciónPSI2008-04392/PSIC


    • Eating satisfaction
    • Food, mood, emotional eating
    • Tastiness


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