The aim of the study was to examine the extent to which obese people differ in their emotionally driven and addictive-like eating behaviors from normal-weight and overweight people. A total of 1142 participants were recruited from a general population, by a web-based cross-sectional survey assessing anxiety/depression (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale), emotional eating (Emotional Appetite Questionnaire), food addiction (modified Yale Food Addiction Scale), and intuitive eating (Intuitive Eating Scale-2). The statistical design was based on analyses of (co)variance, correlograms, and mediations. A set of Body Mass Index (BMI) group comparisons showed that obese people reported higher levels of depression and emotional eating and that they experienced more severe and frequent food addiction symptoms than overweight and normal-weight people. Associations between anxiety, depression, food addiction symptoms’ count, and the difficulties to rely on hunger and satiety cues were found across all weight classes, suggesting that addictive-like eating may represent a unique phenotype of problematic eating behavior that is not synonymous with high BMI or obesity. Conversely, the interrelation between anxiety/depression, emotional eating, and the difficulties to rely on hunger and satiety cues was found only among obese participants, and negative emotional eating mediated the association between depression and anxiety and the difficulties to rely on hunger and satiety cues. This study emphasizes the necessity to develop more comprehensive approaches integrating emotional dysregulation and addictive-like eating behaviors to improve weight management and quality of life of obese people.
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