Background

Emerging research has revealed significant associations between “food addiction” and eating/weight disorders, including binge-eating disorder (BED) and obesity. Separate lines of research have found that emotional overeating and emotional dysregulation are robust correlates of obesity, eating/weight disorders, and food addiction. To date, however, studies have yet to examine the relationships between these conceptually-related constructs. Thus, the current study aimed to examine (1) the discrete facets of emotional overeating predictive of food addiction and (2) the mediating effect of emotional dysregulation of the relationship between emotional overeating and food addiction.

Methods

Participants were 261 (71.3% female and 28.7 male) treatment-seeking adults with obesity and who met DSM-IV-TR research criteria for BED. Doctoral research-clinicians reliably administered diagnostic and semi-structure interviews (Eating Disorder Examination) to determine BED diagnosis. Participants completed a battery of established self-report measures to assess food addiction (YFAS), emotion dysregulation (DERS), and emotional overeating (EOS).

Results

Analyses indicated that eight facets of emotional overeating (anxiety, sadness, loneliness, tiredness, anger, boredom, guilt, and pain) were positively associated with food addiction (r values range from .26 to .33) and with emotion dysregulation scores (r values range from .22 to .40). Results further supported that emotion dysregulation fully mediated the relationship between emotional overeating and food addiction (p values range from .002 to .03).

Conclusions

Our findings suggest that patients with BED with co-comorbid obesity who engage in emotional overeating are more likely to be report being addicted to food potentially partly due to the mediating influence of emotion dysregulation. The findings suggest the need for longitudinal and experimental studies to confirm findings and inform treatment efforts.