Triggers of eating in everyday life

A. Janet Tomiyama, Traci Mann, Lisa Comer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Understanding the triggers of eating in everyday life is crucial for the creation of interventions to promote healthy eating and to prevent overeating. Here, the proximal predictors of eating are explored in a natural setting. Research from laboratory settings suggests that restrained eaters overeat after experiencing anxiety, distraction, and the presence of positive or negative moods, but not hunger; whereas the only factor that triggers eating in unrestrained eaters is hunger. In this study, 137 female participants reported hourly for 2 days on these potential predictors and their eating using electronic diaries, allowing us to establish the relationships between these factors while participants went about their normal daily activities. The main outcome variables were the number of servings eaten and whether or not food was eaten. Contrary to findings from laboratory settings, in everyday life restrained eaters (1) did not overeat in response to anxiety; (2) ate less in the presence of positive or negative moods; and (3) ate more in response to hunger. The relationships between these factors and eating among unrestrained eaters were closer to those found in laboratory settings. In conclusion, predictors of eating must be studied in everyday life to develop successful interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)72-82
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship and an NIMH Health Psychology Predoctoral Fellowship T32MH15750-29 (A.J.T); University of California Council on Research Grant (T.M.); grant MH63795 from the National Institutes of Mental Health (T.M), and a University of Northern Colorado Faculty Grant (L.C.). We acknowledge the efforts of our undergraduate research assistants, and the invaluable assistance of Rachel Shasha and Ashley Moskovich. We would also like to thank Shelly Gable and Richard Slatcher for statistical assistance and Steve Engel for his usual wisdom.


  • Daily diary
  • Eating
  • Restraint


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