Who eats their feelings, and who sweats them out?: Understanding how individuals and their romantic partners use eating and exercise for emotion regulation

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Who eats their feelings, and who sweats them out?: Understanding how individuals and their romantic partners use eating and exercise for emotion regulation

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2022-04

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Researchers argue that individuals’ emotion regulation affects their long-term health outcomes by leading them to engage in health behaviors to cope with their stress and negative emotions. However, there is a need to isolate health behavior for this purpose from individuals’ typical health behavior, and to include health-promoting behaviors, such as exercise, in addition to health-compromising behaviors, such as eating junk food. Furthermore, emotion regulation and health behavior often occur around close others and are influenced by them, highlighting the need to study the social context around these processes. Thus, this dissertation examines how individuals’ and their romantic partners’ emotion regulation and typical health behavior predict their use of eating and exercise to down-regulate negative emotion. Participants reported their typical health habits and use of eating and exercise for emotion regulation, including how frequently they engaged in the behaviors and how they deviated from their typical health behavior when doing so. Participants’ balanced (i.e., constructive and effective) emotion regulation was measured by well-established self-report surveys as well as by their behavior during conflict discussions with their romantic partners, which was coded by trained observers. The results indicated that balanced emotion regulation was not related to individuals’ typical health behavior but was related to their health behavior for emotion regulation. Furthermore, participants reported significantly changing their typical health behavior when using it to cope. Actor Partner Interdependence Model regressions revealed that participants lower in self-reported balanced emotion regulation engaged in eating for emotion regulation more frequently than those higher, especially if they were women. Their typical junk food consumption was not predictive. In contrast, those who typically exercised more in their daily lives used exercise for emotion regulation more frequently than those who exercised less. They also tended to increase their exercise more when using it to regulate their emotions, especially if they were men. Balanced emotion regulation was not related to individuals’ use of exercise to manage their feelings, although those higher in balanced emotion regulation used exercise significantly more often than they used eating for this purpose. Individuals’ partners’ tendencies were sometimes associated with individuals’ eating for emotion regulation, but not with their exercise. Self-reported balanced emotion regulation was more strongly related to other variables than was behavioral balanced emotion regulation. These findings suggest that health behavior for emotion regulation differs from typical health behavior, more dysregulated individuals may eat (but not exercise) more often to cope with their negative feelings, and experience with exercise may be needed to employ physical activity for emotion regulation.

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University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2022. Major: Psychology. Advisors: Jeffry Simpson, Alexander Rothman. 1 computer file (PDF); 150 pages.

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Jones, Rachael. (2022). Who eats their feelings, and who sweats them out?: Understanding how individuals and their romantic partners use eating and exercise for emotion regulation. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/241403.

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