Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Kevin T Larkin


Obesity and dysfunctional eating are prevalent and costly concerns in the United States and throughout the world (CDC, 2007; Mathus-Vliegen et al., 2008). Research into the etiology of these conditions points to problems regulating eating, particularly during times of stress. The animal literature suggests that eating during and following stress may lead to a more immediate physiological recovery from stress (e.g., Bulwalkda et al., 2001; Pecoraro et al., 2004). The present study was designed to test this phenomenon in humans; that is, to determine if eating a favorite food immediately after stress would lead to enhanced physiological recovery from stress; and if so, for whom does the phenomenon occur? Fifty two young adults (13 men, 37 women; average age = 19.8 years) completed an entrance survey and then were invited into the laboratory for two separate sessions. Participants engaged in a modified Trier Social Stress Test while physiological (heart rate, blood pressure, heart rate variability, salivary cortisol) and affective (PANAS) measures of reactivity and recovery were gathered. During one of the sessions (Food Session), participants ate a favorite food immediately following stress. A pairedsamples t-test comparing Food and No Food recovery showed a significant difference in recovery for heart rate, t(52) = 3.72, p < .001, and systolic blood pressure, t(48) = 2.9, p < .01 between the Food and No Food sessions; however, it was opposite of the predicted direction. Participants showed a slower heart rate and systolic blood pressure recovery during the Food session compared to the No Food session. Additionally, emotional eating scores were associated with slower systolic blood pressure recovery, beta = .31, t(47) = 2.17, p < .05. These results suggest that food does not improve physiological recovery time following stress, but that eating following stress may increase recovery time, especially for people with dysfunctional eating patterns, leading to poorer long-term health outcomes.