Emotional Eating and Treatment

In comparison to eating when we are truly hungry, emotional eating is a concept that means eating in response to an emotion. Although we typically think of emotions such as frustration, loneliness, rage, anxiety, and boredom as causes for impulsive or binge eating, even happiness and the desire to rejoice can cause us to eat emotionally. It is also called stress eating or “head hunger.” 

Our appetite appears to be inhibited by short-term and acute stress. This is because our nervous system kicks into “fight or flight” mode when we are irritated or scared. Our brain and body react and adrenaline is produced automatically; the resources of our body are guided away from the digestive system and into the bodily systems that we need to protect ourselves. But the hormone cortisol, which increases appetite and can contribute to belly fat, remains elevated as stress becomes chronic and can make us feel inappropriately hungry. The foods we yearn for are never proteins and vegetables when we are excessively depressed and/or emotional. Instead, we crave foods that are high in carbohydrates and fat, excessively refined foods, and/or just pleasant foods to consume. 

Studies show that foods high in sugar and fat cause our brain, at least temporarily, to release feel-good hormones and endorphins and thus activate a relaxation response. The word “comfort food” is not a coincidence. Emotional eating and unhealthy eating habits are very prevalent, the American Psychological Association found. 

In a 2013 survey, 37% of adults indicated that in the past 30 days they have been involved in overeating or consuming unhealthy foods as a way to cope with stress. Furthermore, these same people suggested that this kind of emotional eating habit was an ongoing issue for them. Almost half of these adults (49 percent) showed negative feelings towards themselves after emotional consuming and/or eating unhealthy foods.

Like the emotional eating habits that also arise with them, persistent stress and mood-related conditions, such as depression and anxiety, are treatable. A mindfulness-based, cognitive approach to behaviour can help.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is intended to recognise harmful or debilitating thought patterns and restructure them. The underlying theory is that in fundamental ways our thoughts and values affect our emotions and actions. As such, we will change our attitudes and actions if we can learn to regulate our ideas (such as overeating). CBT may also raise awareness of emotional eating patterns and assist us during, during, and before a traumatic event to recognise and resolve emotional causes. The ability to effectively eliminate or minimise the cause of emotional eating is given by psychotherapy. Similarly, therapy will include behavioural skills when you are not hungry, whether the situation/trigger is social, emotional, motivational, or environmental, to combat overeating, binge eating, or simply eating. 

A psychologist will help you recognise and resolve underlying psychological conditions if you are eating because of your emotions. Prompt therapy is necessary because eating can never fix an emotional problem; in the long term, it just makes you worse because it typically leads to weight gain, health issues, and disappointment.