Broadly speaking, my research examines obesity and its two major behavioral causes eating and sedentary behavior. I conduct my research in collaboration with three main groups at UCLA Drs. Traci Mann and Shelley Taylor within Psychology, with Drs. Sarosh Motivala and Michael Irwin at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, and with Drs. Antronette Yancey and Bill McCarthy in the School of Public Health.

My main program of research focuses on the intersections between dieting, obesity, and stress. My advisors are Traci Mann, Shelley Taylor, and Ted Robles.

Research indicates that dieting, defined as a severe restriction in caloric intake, is ineffective in treating obesity in the long term. My current program of research investigates possible mechanisms through which diets likely fail as a treatment for obesity.

I have developed the following model to outline some possible ways through which dieting may lead to eventual weight regain:

 

Specifically, I am currently investigating the link between dieting, stress, and weight regain. There are myriad pathways through which stress leads to weight regain:

My hypothesis is that dieting, instead of being an effective treatment for obesity, is in fact a chronic stressor that can, ironically, lead back to weight regain. My dissertation is designed to test whether or not dieting is a chronic stressor.

In an extension of my earlier work, I am currently conducting a 2 x 2, fully crossed experiment to delineate whether the restrictive (i.e., feeling hungry, repeatedly denying oneself food) or monitoring (i.e., counting calories, planning meals, monitoring weight) properties of dieting, or both, cause stress. In this study, I am examining both psychological stress and biological markers of the stress response through cortisol and salivary alpha amylase.

At the Cousins Center, I am investigating the potential stress-buffering and mental and physical health-promoting effects of physical activity with Drs. Motivala and Irwin. Specifically, I am conducting a study examining whether Tai Chi practice might beneficially affect such outcomes. In a within-subjects design, participants practice either Tai Chi practice or guided stretching, and undergo the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST). Outcome measures include sympathetic nervous system (including both HRV and cardiac impedance) responses to and recovery from the TSST and changes in emotion processing and depressive symptomatology.

My work in Public Health with Drs. Yancey and McCarthy examines obesity and physical fitness directly. I am currently beginning a pilot intervention study to decrease obesity and increase physical activity and physical fitness in 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in a predominantly racial/ethnic minority and low SES school district. This study will be conducted in the coming year. The intervention uses the Nintendo Wii, a recently released video game console, and Wii Sports, a video game that uses motion-sensing technology to create true-to-life sports movements and sports play. Outcome measures include performance on California Fitness Standards tests, weight, blood pressure, mental health, cognitive skills, and self esteem and self efficacy.

research