Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program



English (en)

Date of Award

January 2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Denise Wilfley


Loss of control over eating refers to the sense that one cannot control what or how much one is eating. Loss of control eating is prevalent among overweight children and is associated with psychosocial impairment. Self-report data suggest that pediatric loss of control eating may be related to the experience of aversive emotions, with investigators theorizing that loss of control eating is a maladaptive means of alleviating negative mood. However, these data need to be substantiated using more objective methodology. The current study utilized a feeding laboratory paradigm to further explore the relation between mood and eating in 46 overweight girls with: LOC+; n = 23) and without: LOC-; n = 23) loss of control eating problems. Girls underwent two separate experimental mood manipulations during which they viewed either a sad or neutral film segment. Following each mood induction, girls ate ad libitum from a multi-item meal. LOC+ girls did not consume more food, as measured in either kilocalories or grams, after a sad mood induction relative to a neutral mood induction. However, LOC+ girls consumed a greater percentage of kilocalories from fat after a sad mood induction relative to a neutral mood induction. Negative mood on the day of the sad mood induction significantly predicted the likelihood of LOC+ girls reporting loss of control during the subsequent test meal. Contrary to expectation, there was a trend towards an interactional effect of loss of control status and mood condition on food intake in grams, such that LOC- participants tended to consume a larger volume of food in the sad condition relative to the neutral condition, whereas LOC+ girls ate a similar volume of food regardless of mood condition. Mood improvements subsequent to the sad condition test meal were observed in the full sample. Results suggest that emotional eating episodes in children reporting loss of control eating problems may be best characterized by a subjective sense of loss of control as opposed to consumption of large amounts of food. Interventions addressing affect regulation and coping in at-risk youth may help minimize the negative sequelae associated with pediatric loss of control eating.


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