Date of Conferral
More than a third of all adults in the United States are considered obese. Due to the high costs of health care for obese adults and children, obesity has become a national health crisis. Many government programs have been developed to curtail obesity in adults and children. Unfortunately, there has only been limited success. Past research has shown that obesity has been linked to stress and eating while stressed. Emotional eating occurs when individuals respond to certain emotions, such as stress, by eating to cope with the emotion. Research has shown a correlation between nursing and disordered eating. Given the stressful working environment of mental health workers, the purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of mental health workers who self-identify as emotional eaters. Selye's stress response theory and Heatherton and Baumeister's affect regulation model provided the theoretical framework for this study. Participants included 12 purposefully selected individuals from a specific mental health agency who responded to semi-structured interview questions. Data were analyzed for themes and patterns. The major themes included stress related to mental health work, food patterns altered due to stress, and ways to manage emotional eating. Future research should include a larger sample size across different geographical regions and agencies and the inclusion of individuals who do not self-identify as emotional eaters. With greater knowledge and understanding on the reasons people choose to eat when stressed, individuals and employers may be able to gain insight and make changes that would allow them to manage stress at work without food.