Establishing a link between anxiety sensitivity, exercise intolerance, and overeating
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Obesity has reached epidemic proportions, highlighting the need to better understand contributors to under-exercise and overeating. Anxiety Sensitivity (AS) is hypothesized to amplify negative affect and avoidance motives, and has been linked to maladaptive coping behaviors such as eating pathology as well as distress during and avoidance of exercise. The current series of studies was designed to extend research that relied on self-report assessments, and investigate the role of AS in objectively-assessed eating and exercise behavior across three community samples. The first two studies examined eating in the context of experimentally-induced negative affect in a sample representing all weight categories (N = 57); and distress, perceived exertion, and affect changes during exercise in normal and obese weight groups (N = 38). The third study extended this investigation to a naturalistic setting, using actigraphy, affect, and dietary monitoring across a three-day period in normal and obese weight groups (N = 32). The hypotheses were that AS would predict more eating in the context of negative affect; greater perceived exertion and distress during exercise, as well as avoidance of exercise, with findings most pronounced in obese participants. Results were as follows. In the first study, more calories consumed following a negative affect induction was predicted by the interaction between a dimension of AS (mental concern) and the expectancy of loss of control from eating in overweight/obese participants. In the second study, there was no significant association between AS and ratings of exertion or distress during exercise; however, a trend suggested the expected affective benefits of acute exercise were not evident in obese participants with greater AS and exertion. The final study found that AS was associated with more calories consumed across the monitoring period in women but not men (who were equally represented across AS and weight groups), and was also predictive of more calories consumed in the context of negative affect. Additionally, high AS predicted less engagement in moderate-intensity exercise in obese participants and more in normal weight participants. Overall, these studies provide support for the hypothesis that AS is a predictor of both exercise avoidance and overeating behavior.