Stress Eating Disorder: What Is It And How to Deal With It

Our relationship with food is one of the most emotionally charged ones we have. For many of us, food is not just about being nourishment, but also to a tool to cope with deeper emotions that have nothing to do with hunger.

How often have you searched for leftovers from dinner in the middle of the night just because eating was a way to satisfy a craving? This behavior is quite common among modern humans.

Unlike in the old days, we no longer eat just to satisfy our hunger and need for sustenance. If that had been the case, no one in this world would have been obese.

Food has become a complicated addiction, especially since one cannot totally abstain from it either.

Stress Eating and Weight Gain: How Does It Start?

We often tend to think of stress eating as caused by the lack of self control. However, this is not true.

If it was an issue with discipline, we wouldn’t be indulging in paying money in gyms, looking for special and expensive meal plans, torturing our health and obsessing about what others are eating.

It wouldn’t have grown to become stress eating disorder. The problem is more serious and underlying and can be due to:

  • Lack of awareness: Sometimes we eat just because we have extra food lying in front of us. We are not conscious that we’ve finished our meal but continue picking at the extras.

  • Food being the only pleasure: When nothing good is happening in your life and having a meal is the only time you have control over what happens. After all, a big ice cream can be soothing after a hectic day at work. Gradually, this becomes a habit and then an obsession. Sweet foods like ice cream actually contain opioids, the same substance that is found in drugs like heroin or cocaine, which slows and soothes our brain. It’s the same with potato chips.

  • Lack of coping strategies for stress: Since ages, humans have had the habit of distracting themselves from bad feelings and indulging in things that aren’t quite to our best of interests. It’s like any other addiction and it comes from the lack of healthier coping strategies for dealing with daily stressors.

  • Body image issues: Hating your own body is a big factor in stress eating disorders. Hatred and the feeling of shame is the reason people make bad lifestyle changes, one of which is being unaware of their obesity and weight gain.

  • Physiology: Some people tend to get too hungry very easily. Ideally, one should wait until the brain receives strong signals that the body is ready to absorb more but we tend to reach for food much earlier and much more frequently. It’s hard to fight these urges and this also makes us more vulnerable to stress eating and weight gain.

College students and teenagers are the top group falling prey to emotional eating. According to a recent study, around 28% of undergraduate female students suffer from emotional eating disorder in the University of Michigan.

This is because there are so many kinds of stressors they deal with – from study to peer pressure and more. Emotional eating is also seen to occur more among kids and pregnant women.

How To Stop Stress Eating

At some point in time, every stress eater realizes that something is wrong and an immediate change is necessary to make life easier. However, it is easier thought than done. You need to understand that:

  • It can be tedious and seem like a burden to focus on what you are eating, but being mindful and a slow start is all you need.

  • There are other ways of rewarding yourself at the end of the day and they don’t need to be self destructive. Strategies such as getting a dog and coming home to it, can relieve feelings of loneliness and introduce you to a healthier lifestyle.

  • Complicated feelings have nothing to do with your food, or at least food is not a solution. It might be better to let yourself get angry and bored than trying to stuff down your feelings through stress eating.

  • Emotional eating is a temporary relief measure, but can do a lot of damage to your body, career, personality and social standing in the long term.

  • Your body will tell you when it is really necessary to eat. Pay attention to it and stop when you’re done. Food is meant to give you energy and life, not drain it from you.

  • Turn to a therapist to get better awareness of your stress eating triggers and find healthy coping strategies to deal with them.

Schedule an appointment with us and get your first session free.

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