Stress and Emotional Eating
It is not a new idea that stress and comfort eating has indeed been a common factor in our poor diets. Stressors and anxieties of the world have left food to fill the void. However, what is interesting to note is that the entire FUNCTION of eating has been lost in the shuffle, being replaced, instead, by connecting food with emotions.
Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD reports in her MedicineNet article that, “Psychologically, people who tend to connect food with comfort, power, positive feelings, or for any other reasons than providing fuel to their body can be prone to emotional eating. They may eat to fill an emotional void, when physically full, and engage in mindless eating. Some people whose emotions cause them to eat may have been raised to connect food with feelings instead of sustenance, particularly if food was scarce or often used a reward or punishment, or as a substitute for emotional intimacy.”
It is of further interest to note the tendencies between the genders as the article goes on to say that, “Other research indicates that in some populations, men are more likely to eat in response to feeling depression or anger, and women were more likely to eat excessively in response to failing a diet”. I would venture a wager that women will also eat excessively at any perception of “failure”.
The real problem here is that the situation is not getting better, in fact, it’s getting much much worse.
Chronic stress is more and more a part of daily existence. And it seems not only in the U.S. but in countries all over the world, with the advent of easier purchasing and transportation of goods.
According to Dr. Dryden-Edwards, “It is thought that the increase in the hormone cortisol that is one of the body's responses to stress is similar to the medication prednisone in its effects. Specifically, both tend to trigger the body's stress (fight or flight) response, including increased heart and breathing rate, blood flow to muscles, and visual acuity. Part of the stress response often includes increased appetite to supply the body with the fuel it needs to fight or flee, resulting in cravings for so-called comfort foods. People who have been subjected to chronic rather than momentary stress (like job, school, or family stress, exposure to crime or abuse) are at risk for having chronically high levels of cortisol in their bodies, contributing to developing chronic emotional-eating patterns.”
Weight loss specific practitioners, as well as mental health counselors are now working together to heal the problem of emotional eating, as it is understood that weight loss and emotional eating all have common roots in the thought patterns that brought about the action of comfort eating.
A large part of the healing process involves mindfulness, or being aware of what you are doing in the present moment, so that you can make appropriate decisions for your goals, as often times many actions are conducted out of such a trained emotional response, that the person isn’t even aware of what they are doing. The Mayo Clinic acknowledges that, “In fact, your emotions can become so tied to your eating habits that you automatically reach for a treat whenever you're angry or stressed without thinking about what you're doing.”
It is these subconscious and automatic reflexes that need to be examined in order to heal the pattern of overeating due to emotion and/or stress, diet failure, beating oneself up for failing, then overeating all over again. It is more than self esteem, and self discipline. It is about self love and being aware. Being brave enough to learn yourself inside and out. To watch your actions, and not judge them, but in order that you may decide if it is actions you keep wanting to partake in.
Just because you have used food distractedly and misplaced it’s use to fill a void in the past, does not mean you need to keep doing it. See yourself as getting better each and every day as you become more and more aware of your habits.