Though studies have already debunked the “Freshman 15” myth of gaining 15 pounds during the first year of college, changes in weight during college do occur frequently. These weight changes are often attributed to the altered food choices and eating behaviors students develop when they begin college. An underlying factor that has been identified as contributing to these new habits is stress.

This study aimed to explore the relationship between stress, food choices, and eating behaviors, and explore gender-based differences in these factors in college students. The research employed two distinct methods: 1) surveys; and 2) a controlled experiment. For the survey part of the study, 278 participants filled out a survey twice over the course of fall semester, which asked about their current stress level, eating behaviors, and food choices. The experimental part of the study involved 36 participants who completed a stress-inducing task with either positive or negative messaging before filling out a survey that asked about food choices.

Study 1 showed 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 over the course of the semester. In study 2, no significant differences in food choices between positive and negative messaging groups were revealed. These results support the hypothesis that chronic stress is related to both food choice and eating behaviors, however, acute stress did not produce any effects in this study.

Further analyses demonstrated 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.


Lynn, Sharon

Second Advisor

Tierney, Thomas




Food Studies | Nutrition


stress, food choices, eating behaviors, stress-eating

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2021 Maya M. Rodemer