Harnessing Healthy Stress Eating to Reduce Disparities

Project Summary

The project team conducted a randomized controlled trial to determine if “comfort eating” actually reduces stress, and, if so, if eating healthy food can produce the same stress-relieving effects as eating less healthy foods. This was the first randomized, controlled experiment testing the causal effects of comfort eating on physiological stress markers.

Research Question(s)

  • Does consuming healthy foods after a stressful event reduce psychological and physiological stress to the same extent as consuming unhealthy foods?
  • Are there potential buffering effects of healthy food consumption moderated or mediated by plausible psychological factors or food sugar content?


  • Inform the design of nutrition interventions for chronically stressed individuals and families.

Outcomes & Methodology

Piecewise multilevel growth curve modeling was used to analyze mood, rumination, physiology (impedance cardiography, electrodermal activity, respiration, heart rate), and cortisol levels. The PROCESS statistical macro was used to investigate the variables of global perceived stress, comfort eating expectations, and self-reported feelings of guilt.

Three containers of vegetables
Grantee and Partner organizations

University of California, Los Angeles
Purple Asparagus

Grant status
Principal investigators
A. Janet Tomiyama, PhD
Start date
Award amount
24 months

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