Maya Rodemer

Stressed Is Just Desserts Spelled Backwards: An Investigation Into the Influences on Stressed Eating Behaviors in Undergraduate Students

April 5, 2021   /  

Student Name: Maya Rodemer
Major(s): Food and Nutrition Science (student-designed)
Advisor(s): Dr. Sharon Lynn, Dr. Tom Tierney

This study aimed to explore the relationship between stress, food choices, and eating behaviors, and describe any potential differences among genders in undergraduate college students. The research employed two distinct methods: 1) surveys; and 2) a controlled experiment. For the survey part of the study, participants filled out a survey twice, which asked about their current stress level, eating behaviors, and food choices. The experimental part of the study involved 36 participants completing a test with either positive or negative messaging before filling out a survey that asked about food choices.

Study 1 found significant relationships between number of stressors and food choices, and that the breadth of the relationship between stressors and food choices grew as stress levels increased. In study 2, no significant differences in food choices between positive and negative messaging groups were found. These results indicate that chronic stress is related to both food choice and eating behaviors, however, the results did not show that acute stress produced any effects in this study.

Further analyses found significant differences in food choices and eating behaviors among genders in the survey study. However, gender did not account for any differences in food choices in study 2. Thus, gender may play a role in the stress-eating relationship if the stress is chronic, but these effects do not seem to carry over when acute stress is involved.

Should brownies be cakey or fudgy?

A lil bit of both
It doesn’t matter either way
Brownies are gross
Created with QuizMaker

Maya will be online to field comments on April 16: 2-4 PM EDT (PST 11am-1pm, Africa/Europe: evening)

67 thoughts on “Stressed Is Just Desserts Spelled Backwards: An Investigation Into the Influences on Stressed Eating Behaviors in Undergraduate Students”

  1. What’s your go to food/drink when you’re stressed? (currently in the market for new ideas)

    1. Hi Maya,
      Popcorn and green grapes! I can’t wait to spend some more time learning about your I.S.

      1. …this feels like a sponsored comment! You’re certainly at the right institution, Dr. Tierney. Thank you for being a wonderful advisor and professor on this journey!

    2. I seek out a big bowl of crunched-up graham crackers, topped with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with honey; if I’m feeling especially needy, I often pour chocolate syrup over the whole thing!

      1. Ok these are superstars individually, but this sounds like a combination that’s absolutely fire

    3. Lately, it has to have a sweet and salty component – like chocolate chip cookies with a sprinkle of kosher salt on top or crushed pretzels inside.

    4. Spicy popcorn or ice cream. Great job on the project, Maya! Congratulations!

    5. Me: International station stir fry at lowry

      My Sister: v8 Energy Drinks

      ps. Congratulations, really awesome project!!!

    6. The β€œto what extent” question brought back so many memories (both good and stressed) which made me crave the food I had in mind: spicy nuclear ramen.

      1. I swore I’d never go back to the “t dubs e” but turns out Mr. Fox was right….
        I am also literally making ramen right now πŸ™‚

  2. Maya – I really enjoyed your presentation. Your video was awesome and very informative! Congratulations and best wishes!
    ~Beth πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Beth! And thank you for all your help with my project πŸ™‚

      P.S. Mac and cheese is one of the best foods, stressed or not.

  3. Nice work, Maya! Your visuals supported the textual reporting of your data gathering and analysis.

    1. Don’t I know you from somewhere…? Thanks for all your support, Papa πŸ™‚

      1. I have been trying to “attend” your Q&A, but can’t find a link to the chat!

  4. Congratulations, Maya. Awesome project, it’s been so nice to see it evolve over the years.
    My stress eat is peanut butter and/or chocolate — usually “and” rather than “or”.

    1. Thank you so much, Dr. Mariola. Thank you also for all your important contributions to my student-designed major and for inspiring me to pursue food and nutrition beyond just a hobby. I will always fondly remember your classes and I still use that granola recipe (and the top secret miso dressing!)

      P.S. Peanut butter and chocolate are truly a match made in heaven

  5. Maya, I was one of the counselors that participated in the event last night and am indebted to Shankar and you for time and care you gave to us. I enjoyed listening to you describe your study; the personality behind it was just as meaningful as the results themselves. Having worked years ago in the Deans’ Office at a small liberal arts college, I know first-hand how important the relationships between stress and eating habits can be–thank you for quantifying them as you did in this study. Fudgy forever!!! And have a great life!

    1. Thank you for your kind words and your time – it was wonderful to chat with you and answer your great questions last night!
      I distinctly remember the first time I walked into Wooster’s cafeteria and noticed that bacon and french fries were available all day with no limits on how much you could take! I think it’s amazing that simply going to college (though it’s certainly a complex change) can have such an impact on the way we interact with food. Cheers!

  6. Absolutely awesome Maya! Loved the video. Very interesting, fun, and easy to follow. Brilliantly done. πŸ™‚ Cheers indeed!

    1. Thank you so much, Mel πŸ™‚ I am going to miss you and Admissions so much. “Cheers” will forever be part of my vocabulary!

      P.S. I really wish I could get on the kombucha train, but for some reason it kind of tastes like dirt to me… I’ll have to try it again!

  7. Great work, and I love the way you’ve included questions to engage the audience. Brownies (of the fudgy variety) are a great stress food for me. Baking them is calming and eating them is so rewarding!

    1. Thank you so much! I certainly consumed many, many, many brownies while working on this project… is senior 15 a thing?

  8. Great job Maya! Very interesting and applicable. It is great to see you be creative with the self-designed major! Do you have any opinion on the “COVID 15”?

    (also pickles all the way!)

    1. Kyndalanne! So nice to hear from you, we miss you at Wooster!

      I audibly groaned when I read COVID 15 – how horrifying, haha! The Quarantine 15 is SO real. Being inside all the time, gyms being closed, increased alcohol consumption… it’s unfortunately the perfect formula. Plus the stress of trying to stay safe and working from home? I consumed a lot of those brownies from the c-store that you love while writing this thesis, and I’m sure that was due to a combination of my newly coined “senior 15” and the COVID 15.

      P.S. I could definitely eat pickles as a whole meal – they are delicious.

  9. Maya!! Your title is so clever and I thought your video was so well put together, too. My favorite stress food is probably goldfish (since the c-store sells those giant tubs of them). Congratulations on all your hard work!

    1. I have a really bad habit of pouring goldfish into my mouth from the bag and I could probably crush 3 of the like normal grocery store bags by myself in under an hour… Goldfish are SO good!
      Thank you, Sarah, and congratulations to you too!!

  10. Whoa Maya! Your video was so professional. It made the topic both engaging and accessible to an outsider. What made you choose your major? Also, I would love to hear more about how the pandemic affected (or didn’t affect) your results!

    1. Thank you so much, Marloes! And congrats to you too!!

      Short answer: I like to eat. Haha! I grew up in a household where cooking daily was normal and food just organically became a medium through which I can express myself.

      In terms of the pandemic, I did analyses to see if there was a difference between students on campus vs. students off campus. My general findings:
      1. Remote students consume a wider variety of dairy items (possibly because they have more access) and fruits. On campus students consumed more sweets.
      2. No differences between remote and and on campus students in terms of restrained, emotional, or external eating behaviors. (Another part of my analyses showed that eating behaviors taught during childhood are a strong predictor of the eating behaviors we exhibit as adults, so this makes sense.)
      3. No differences in stress levels either. Other studies have indicated that online classes aren’t easier face-to-face and students were given the choice to study remote, so this made sense to me too.

  11. Congratulations on your I.S., Maya! What an excellent topic, title, and video!!

    For the experimental part of the study, did you conduct your experiments in a laboratory environment? Also, what would you say is one limitation or opportunity for further research in your study?

    1. Hannahhhhhh! I miss seeing you! Thank you thank you πŸ™‚

      Unfortunately, because of COVID, I wasn’t able to do my experimental part in the lab. So, if someone had videotaped me doing data collection, it’d just be a recording of me yelling at people over Microsoft Teams HAHAHAHA.
      This was definitely a limitation for me, not only because of technology glitches, but also because my food components were purely visual. Photos of food leave out taste and smell, both of which significantly contribute to one’s desire to eat something, so I do wonder if things would have been different had I been able to buy snacks.

      I chose to look specifically at how gender may have played a role, but I also collected data on other demographics, like race/ethnicity and class year, and I think it would be interesting to see if those would also produce effects.

  12. Maya – this is a phenomenal presentation and a super relevant topic. Fudgy brownies, all the way.
    Best of luck to you!

    1. Thank you Dr. Weller – I miss your classes very much! So many IP and group communication concepts used throughout this thesis process. All the best to you as well!

  13. Wow, this is fascinating and your presentation is so beautiful and so, so, engaging! I wanted to ask– do you have an opinion on when stress-eating becomes disordered? It seems like that would be the next logical step in this study (but I’m also an English major!). What are your plans for the future with this project (if you have any)?

    Great job, this presentation is amazing!!

    1. Thank you thank you! And congrats to you as well!

      I believe stress-eating itself isn’t currently a defined eating disorder according to the DSM-5 because that’s too broad, however, stress certainly plays an important role in the development of defined eating disorders. Disordered eating is a common way that people deal with unwanted negative emotions, such as stress, and then the effects of stress manifest themselves as binge eating disorder or anorexia nervosa etc.

      I’m headed to complete a Master’s in Public Health, so I’ll turn my focus to clinical and community work rather than research, but with their popularity, I know that the freshman 15 and stress-eating will come up again as I work with others.

  14. Maya,

    Really impressive presentation and thanks for your time with us Counselors last evening. I’m sure you have a very bright future ahead!

    BTW – The brownies in the beginning of the presentation looked delicious…I hope you got to enjoy them! I like a mix of cakey and fudgy, but will never pass up any type of brownie offered πŸ™‚

    1. This is so kind – thank you for watching my presentation! It was fun to chat with you all yesterday.

      Finally someone with the correct answer! The best brownies are cakey and chewy on the outside and then fudgy in the middle. Gotta get an edge piece for the perfect combination (though edge vs. middle is a whole different debate)

  15. I love this project, but my question is why didn’t I get any brownies?

  16. Congratulations on an awesome project, Maya! You have such a great design and presentation. I love seeing how your major has taken shape.

    Two questions –
    1) Do you think that Halloween may have played a role in eating choices in your second survey administration?
    2) What’s next for you?

    Best wishes!!

    1. Oh Dr. Schen, thank you! Much of the major and this project was developed in your office over tea and baked goods, and I am forever grateful for all your advice, inspiration, and kindness.

      I love that you brought up Halloween because I realize it truly was the couple weeks around Halloween when the second survey went out. I really wish I had some way to quantify the effects of that holiday on this data because I’m sure there would be some sort of effect (in normal years), even if it was small. Considering the whole pandemic situation, Halloween celebrations probably looked very different this year than they would normally, and I wonder if that might have counteracted some of the effects of the holiday we might normally see…

      I am headed home to that school up there (I know, I know, I’m sorry πŸ˜‰ ) for an MPH in Nutritional Sciences with a Dietetics concentration – super excited! Go blue!

  17. Maya, this was such an engaging presentation! Great work and best of luck to you with your future endeavors!

  18. Hi Maya – this is a fantastic and very engaging presentation! As someone currently studying experimental design, I’m curious whether you ran any kind of manipulation checks on your experiment before carrying it out and what that might have looked like.

    1. Thank you very much!
      While I did try out the experimental procedure on some guinea pig friends, my groups actually ended up doing the opposite of what I expected. I thought the negative messaging group heart rates would increase because I was pressuring them during the stress test while the positive messaging group heart rates would stay the same or decrease because I was encouraging them. There are many potential explanations for this, but I think a manipulation check might have helped this situation!

  19. Maya, Maya, Maya – what a lovely video presentation (especially the brownie making montage)! I took your advice, got a snack, and thankfully had mini brownies to eat while watching your presentation (not as fudgy as I like them but, it’ll do!). When you talked about your finding that males consumed more protein, it made me question whether it would be beneficial/interesting to look at whether or not participants’ also worked out or not? This could also be a way that people manage their stress that could affect their food choices as well such as potentially being stressed and binge eating while also then feeling guilty and then working out heavily -thoughts?

    I’m so proud of all your hard work and what’s to come and can’t wait to see it all come together. You really made it work, made it easy, and made it clever, crafting into pieces!

    1. Mia, Mia, Mia – so glad you had some delicious brownies during this goofy video. Somehow mini brownies are better than regular ones IMO

      Yes, I think it would be fascinating to look at exercise patterns! I did ask if participants were student-athletes and I could run a quick chi-square to see if the majority of those who said they were student-athletes also identified as male… But then again, socially, women also experience pressure to stay thin and working out is a way to maintain that… Agh, so many related thoughts!!

      You know what’s in brownies? Sugar, butter, flour….

    1. Thank you so much Joelle! I (the software) certainly did all of the animations myself (the software). No, I used a program that had pre-animated elements, haha!

  20. Maya! What a neat presentation, it was one of my all time favorites from my four years of going to IS symposium. The only thing that could have made it better would have been eating one of your delicious brownies while watching!

    1. Oh Georgia, that is so so kind. Brownies for the win!
      And congrats to you as well!

  21. Great presentation! It was really engaging and visually appealing. After having gone through the project, is there anything that you would have liked to look further into if you had more time?

    1. I’m so glad you found it engaging! I really tried to throw in everything I could in this weird virtual world πŸ™‚

      I definitely think I could have run many, many, many more stats for my survey project and potentially compared 3 variables at once. I actually also originally started with a lab-based experiment that involved measuring cortisol levels from saliva after the different stress experiences (that was later deemed unsafe), so if I had more time (and/or had we not been in a pandemic), I would have wanted to carry out my original plans.

  22. Such a great and engaging presentation! I loved the animation. Since I am still recovering from my freshman 15 (at age 62!) I would love to talk to you more on this topic sometime. I can’t wait to see where you go from here. So proud of you. Stay in touch!

    1. Oh Kathryn!! It’s so nice to hear from you. Thank you for your kind words. πŸ™‚ We must meet soon and talk with no end in sight – I miss you and Will and Ryan and Cooper! Perhaps over some dessert…

  23. Maya, you are so unbelievably talented. If campus were to invite its best students back for an “All-Star’s” version of I.S., you would win hands down!! I’m so grateful to have watched this project develop, from its origins in collecting spit, to the beautifully made presentation we see here today. Congratulations again, I am so proud of you!

    1. Only if you’re the one passing on the All-Stars crown! Thank you for everything, babes!

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