Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

William P. Sacco, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jack Darkes, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Paul B. Jacobsen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kristen Salomon, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brent J. Small, Ph.D.


affect, dietary restraint, obesity, randomized, self-regulation, weight


The experience of stress may contribute to increased food consumption and selection of unhealthy food options. Resource depletion theory suggests stress temporarily depletes resources needed to regulate behavior. Depletions of self-control may result in subsequent failure to regulate eating behaviors, which is particularly salient in restrained eaters. Restraint theory posits people high in dietary restraint require significant effort to control eating. Emotional eating theory further suggests palatable foods may be used to regulate emotional stress reactions. Relaxation exercises to mitigate stress reactions are recommended in eating and weight management programs, but lack quality scientific support. The current study examined the efficacy of a brief relaxation intervention on stress-related eating in a sample of at-risk women. Self-regulatory resources and affect were tested as mechanisms of action. A sample of 139 women high in dietary restraint completed a stress-task and were subsequently randomized to a relaxation intervention or control group. Participants were presented with foods varied on taste and fat content. Affect, subjective relaxation, and self-regulatory resources were measured at baseline, pre-, and post-intervention. Participation in a relaxation intervention resulted in significantly less food consumption (p < .05), with a trend toward lower consumption of sweet food (p = .05), compared to controls. Multiple mediator models examining proposed indirect effects of group on eating outcomes were not supported, with the exception of change in subjective relaxation as a significant indirect effect for high-fat food consumption. This study is the first to provide experimental evidence of the efficacy of relaxation in mitigating the effects of stress on eating. Limitations, implications, and future research directions are discussed.