Do you find yourself running to the fridge when you feel anxious? Finding comfort in food is common, and is part of a practice called emotional hunger.
People who eat emotionally seek food several times a week or more to suppress and calm negative feelings. They may even feel guilt or shame after eating this way, leading to a cycle of over-eating and associated problems, such as obesity.
Any cause of anxiety – from job stress to money worries, health and relationship issues – can be a reason to eat more.
It is a problem that affects both sexes. But according to different studies, emotional hunger is more common in women than in men.
Other factors include:
• Detach from social support in moments of emotional need.
• Not participating in activities that might otherwise alleviate stress, sadness, etc.
• Not understanding the difference between physical and emotional hunger.
• Use negative internal dialogue related to binge eating episodes. This can create an emotional feeding cycle triggered by anxiety.
• Changes in cortisol levels in response to stress, causing cravings.
Think of a situation in which you felt great anxiety: worry, tension, fear, panic, etc. Can you remember the feeling of an episode of anxiety in your body, maybe in your stomach or your chest, and the worries that you couldn’t leave behind? Anxiety can be a painful and crippling emotion.
Most of us are prepared to avoid feeling it or to avoid it.
This is where overeating comes in. Often, without realizing it, some people can get into the habit of eating when they feel worried, anxious, nervous or stressed.
At a purely rational level, this may not make sense: what does eating have to do with reducing anxiety? But humans are complex, and there are several ways that eating can play a role in reducing anxiety.
Symptoms and anxiety disorders often occur in conjunction with overeating, and some studies have shown that people with binge eating disorder are more likely to experience significant symptoms of anxiety compared to the general population.
Binge eating disorder is characterized by regular episodes of eating a large amount of food in a relatively short period of time with a feeling of loss of control during the eating episode, with distress and vital deterioration (i.e. health, social functioning), job performance.
If you feel that anxiety is leading you to binge eating episodes, it is best to seek professional advice, as these episodes could seriously affect your health.