We know how it feels to look forward to our favourite dish; we are familiar with the notions of comfort food and feeling butterflies in the stomach instead of hunger. In eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating, food and emotions become entangled in a health-threatening way. Apart from creating problems for the affected individual – from unhealthy diets to excess weight and social isolation – eating disorders are also a massive burden on the public health system.
Snack bars instead of hunting mammoths
The human body was perfectly adapted to life as a hunter-gatherer during the Palaeolithic Age, when food was scarce. Today, that same body exists in a society which offers high-calorie meals within easy reach. Thanks to well-stocked kitchen cabinets, fridges and sandwich bars, snacks are available around the clock. This easy availability challenges our self-restraint. Although it has been established that emotional eating is more often found in overweight individuals, little is known about how regulation processes really work when it comes to food intake.
The FWF-funded project "Emo Eat" conducted at the Department of Psychology, University of Salzburg, intends to explore the connections between mood and unhealthy eating behaviour. In co-operation with the University of Luxembourg, the researchers are currently comparing healthy and bulimic women. The study participants are exclusively women, since they are the gender predominantly affected by eating disorders. In order to work out the commonalities between restrained and emotional eating, the project team uses a combination of learning theories, lab experiments and an eating diary app. "We focus on food intake not driven by hunger. We want to work out the connection between emotions and eating that takes the form of an enhanced appetite for easily available comfort food", explains principal investigator Jens Blechert.
Regulating emotions through eating
The FWF project examines the results of a prior online survey at the University of Salzburg's "Eating Behaviour Laboratory" (http://www.eat.sbg.ac.at/). In response to this survey, the majority of women reported that they ate more than usual when they were sad. The investigation also revealed that the respondents ate less than normal when in a state of anxiety or anger. When happy, they eat the usual amounts. The physiological aspects involved in the interaction between anxiety or aggression have been well researched. The release of the stress hormone cortisol prepares the human body for a flight or fight response. In both situations, the feeling of hunger is suppressed.
But what about comfort or frustration eating? Sadness does not entail a threat. Jens Blechert thinks that this case probably involves psychological mechanisms and acquired behaviour. Eating binges are almost always accompanied and triggered by emotions, which is why one well-proven treatment for eating disorders is the analysis of situations that prompt overeating and the search for alternative, healthier ways of self-gratification (social contacts, for instance). By working out the commonalities between healthy and bulimic eaters, the scientist hopes to pave the way for more refined interventions.
Diary app – EEG at the laboratory
The international team in Salzburg and Luxembourg intends to explore comfort eating in a two-stage investigative process. In preparation, healthy study participants are categorised into sub-types: highly emotional eaters, unemotional eaters and a median group. 30 students have already been recruited, but the sample will be extended by 30 more women of different ages, educational and social backgrounds.
The first step is a ten-day survey with a digital food and mood diary. "With our 'Psy-Diary App' we give the study participants a practical tool for reporting emotionally charged situations and abnormal eating behaviour", explains Jens Blechert. The smart-phone app was developed at the University of Salzburg in co-operation with the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences (FH Salzburg). An alarm feature on their smart phones is designed to motivate participants to respond. "It takes only two minutes, which is why 90% of the entries are filed promptly and carefully", is how the head of the "Eating Behaviour Laboratory" describes his experience.
Based on the data provided by the app, the participants are divided into emotional and non-emotional eaters. The scientists then compare the two groups by measuring electrical activity in the brain: the women are asked to recall negative stressful situations over the past week under controlled conditions. The situations they report most often, by the way, are social interactions, for instance quarrelling with their boyfriend on Skype. The negative stress is often accompanied by sadness. After the mood stimulus, electroencephalography (EEG) records which brain regions are activated in reaction to images of tasty snacks. This enables the researchers to draw conclusions about the mechanisms involved in emotional eating.
Which brain region responds to visual stimuli?
Through this controlled laboratory set-up, the researchers investigate how the images of food are processed while under the impression of a sad memory. Do the snacks get more or less attention? Or do the women repress their attention for fear of losing control? And where in the brain can reactions to the images be measured?
"We know that emotion regulation occurs in the frontal lobe. When someone is simply looking at food images we would expect brain activity in the visual cortex or in the reward centre. In case of emotion regulation through eating, we would expect the frontal lobes to direct attention to the images if the mood is negative", notes Jens Blechert. This would also provide a therapeutic approach: namely shifting attention away to alternatives.
FWF Austrian Science Fund
The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) is Austria's central funding organization for basic research.
The purpose of the FWF is to support the ongoing development of Austrian science and basic research at a high international level. In this way, the FWF makes a significant contribution to cultural development, to the advancement of our knowledge-based society, and thus to the creation of value and wealth in Austria.
Prof. Dr. Jens Blechert
Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience
Department of Psychology
University of Salzburg
Hellbrunner Strasse 34,
5020 Salzburg, Austria
T +43 / 662 / 8044 5163
Austrian Science Fund FWF
Haus der Forschung
1090 Vienna, Austria
T +43 / 1 / 505 67 40 - 8117
PR&D – Public Relations for Research and Education
1090 Vienna, Austria
T +43 / 1 / 505 70 44
This release was published on openPR.
Permanent link to this press release:
Please set a link in the press area of your homepage to this press release on openPR. openPR disclaims liability for any content contained in this release.
You can edit or delete your press release Exploring "emo-eating" here
News-ID: 458167 • Views: 529
More Releases from FWF - Austrian Science Fund
Neurosciences: a stress test for men and women
Whilst it is true that women and men respond differently to stress, current neuroscientific research only partially confirms traditional gender stereotypes. Other factors heavily contribute to the stress response such as self-esteem, hormones and stress regulation, as has been demonstrated by a project funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF. How people react to stress is subjective. Gender also plays a fundamental role. Scientific studies have shown that the stress
Researching the grammar of sign language
Like spoken language, sign language has a complex and differentiated structure. One just has to be able to discern and interpret it. With the support of the Austrian Science Fund FWF, a research team from Klagenfurt is working on the elements of a grammar of sign language. It is language that distinguishes Homo sapiens from animals. A complex system in which smaller units combine into larger units, into sentences, into statements.
Using mathematics to hunt for computer errors
Improving the security of computer software and hardware requires mathematical analytic methods. Thanks to research by a team of computer scientists led by Krishnendu Chatterjee in a project funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF, these methods will work significantly faster in the future. Security gap in application discovered, update urgently recommended. Alerts like that can confront us every week. Often, a comprehensive update that addresses teething troubles is already
The many layers of Bella Asmara
Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, is a much admired time capsule reflecting the Italian "dolce vita" of the 1930s. A cluster of modernist buildings has been preserved at the city centre – an Italian futurist vision erected by Mussolini's colonial administration. The postcolonial context of this cultural gem has now been documented in a project funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF. Asmara, the capital of the young state of Eritrea,
More Releases for Austria
Austria Agriculture Market | Austria Agriculture Industry | Austria Agriculture …
The share of Austria agriculture within the Austrian economy declined steady afterward World War II, agriculture continues to represent a very important part of the economy attributable to its social and political significance. The Chamber of Agriculture rests on an equal level with the chambers of commerce and labour, though its members manufactures solely a fraction of the GDP that industrial and sale able labours produce. Though little, the agricultural sector is
Agrochemicals Market in Austria
ReportsWorldwide has announced the addition of a new report title Austria: Agrochemicals: Market Intelligence (2016-2021) to its growing collection of premium market research reports. The report “Austria: Agrochemicals: Market Intelligence (2016-2021)” provides market intelligence on the different market segments, based on type, active ingredient, formulation, crop, and pest. Market size and forecast (2016-2021) has been provided in terms of both, value (000 USD) and volume (000 KG) in the report. A
Nazi psychology in Austria
The history of academic psychology after the "Anschluss", the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938, and its role as a discipline used in National Socialist policies is being examined systematically for the first time in a research project supported by the Austrian Science Fund FWF. "It is a sad fact”, says psychologist Gerhard Benetka from the Sigmund Freud University Vienna "that applied psychology flourished during the National Socialist era
ESCHA Bauelemente GmbH extends position in Austria
Halver, 8 August 2012 – In the course of its globalizing strategy, the German connector- and housing specialist ESCHA starts up direct sales abroad for the first time: On 1 July 2012 the company welcomed Andreas Mader as its first Field Salesman in Austria. Operating from the capital Vienna, Mr. Mader will support existing customers as well as extend the business operations. Simultaniously ESCHA will continue to market its products
Creative Austria meets creative Russia
Euroforum: communicatin ready for the next lap Vienna. On 22nd of October 2009 the advertising association Vienna invites again to the annual Euroforum: communication event, platform for European communication, guaranteeing an interesting mix of “connecting businesses and communications”. The Event takes place in Studio 44, Vienna. Focus point Russia (Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sotschi) The main goal of the Euroforum is to promote and establish business relations and synergies between
Archaeological Sensation in Austria
Scientists from the University of Vienna unearth the earliest evidence of Jewish inhabitants in Austria Archaeologists from the Institute of Prehistory and Early History of the University of Vienna have found an amulet inscribed with a Jewish prayer in a Roman child's grave dating back to the 3rd century CE at a burial ground in the Austrian town of Halbturn. The 2.2-centimeter-long gold scroll represents the earliest sign of