Document Type

Senior Honors Project

Publication Date



Among the many negative effects of stress, behavioral changes regarding food intake/preferences are well-established by research. Most individuals tend to choose less healthy foods—often high-fat, calorically dense, palatable “comfort foods”—when they are experiencing stress. Body image can also have an impact on food intake/preferences; for example, body image dissatisfaction often leads to dieting or dietary restraint. However, evidence also suggests that stress may be associated with greater body image dissatisfaction. This study addresses the interaction between all three variables: stress, body image, and food intake/preferences. Measurements were obtained from thirteen female undergraduate students at two different time points during the college semester. The first measurement period occurred near the beginning of the semester and served as the time point associated with lower chronic stress. The second measurement period occurred at the end of the semester during the two weeks before final examinations and served as the time point associated with higher chronic stress. During each time point, the following measures were taken: perceived body image, perceived stress (acute and chronic), 24-hour food intake measures, salivary cortisol, and height and weight. We hypothesized that perceived stress, salivary cortisol, body image dissatisfaction, and consumption of calorically dense foods would be lower during the first (low-stress) time point and higher during the second (high-stress) time point. The results of the study partially supported our hypothesis in that perceived acute stress levels were significantly higher during the high-stress time point (p<0.05). We also saw a trend which indicated that salivary cortisol and perceived chronic stress were higher during the high-stress time point compared to the low-stress. However, significant differences were not seen for cortisol levels, caloric intake patterns or perceived body image across the two time points (p>0.05).