Emotional Eating Is Not What You Think It Is and Emotional Eating Scales Do Not Measure What You Think They Measure

Peggy Bongers*, Anita Jansen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review

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In eating research, it is common practice to group people into different eater types, such as emotional, external and restrained eaters. This categorization is generally based on scores on self-report questionnaires. However, recent studies have started to raise questions about the validity of such questionnaires. In the realm of emotional eating, a considerable number of studies, both in the lab and in naturalistic settings, fail to demonstrate increased food intake in emotional situations in self-described emotional eaters. The current paper provides a review of experimental and naturalistic studies investigating the relationships between self-reported emotional eater status, mood, and food consumption. It is concluded that emotional eating scales lack predictive and discriminative validity: they cannot be assumed to measure accurately what they intend to measure, namely increased food intake in response to negative emotions. The review is followed by a discussion of alternative interpretations of emotional eating scores that have been suggested in the past few years, i.e., concerned eating, uncontrolled eating, a tendency to attribute overeating to negative affect, and cue-reactive eating.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1932
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2016


  • emotional eating
  • validity
  • self-report questionnaires
  • concerned eating
  • uncontrolled eating
  • cue-reactive eating

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