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   Emotional eating has many causes. The following are some of the main reasons that stressed people eat: Cortisol Cravings Stress can bring on increased levels of cortisol, known as the stress hormone. Cortisol has a beneficial function in the body, but excessive levels of cortisol brought on by chronic stress can cause a slew of problems in the body. Among other things, high levels of cortisol can create cravings for salty and sweet foods. In previous centuries, this enabled people to bulk up on foods that would sustain them during times when food is scarce; however, in modern times and industrialized nations, when food is rarely scarce, this previously adaptive mechanism causes excess weight gain. Social Eating Often people who are under stress will seek out social support, which is a great way to relieve stress. Unfortunately for dieters, when people get together — especially women — we tend to go out for a nice meal. Crying on your friend’s shoulder over a couple  of hot fudge sundaes, going out for a night on the town and a plate full of fried appetizers, sharing a bowl of chips with the guys as you watch a game, or discussing the gory details of a nightmare date over cheesecake with your roommates (didn’t this oc cur in every episode of The Golden Girls?) are all social forms of emotional eating. It can make you feel better in the short term, but you may regret it later. Nervous Energy When stressed or anxious, many people become orally fidgety. Sometimes this leads to nail biting or teeth grinding, and often it leads to eating when not hungry. Many people, out of nervousness or boredom, just munch on chips or drink soda to give their mouths something to do. Childhood Habits Many of us have comforting childhood memories that revolve around food. Whether your parents used to reward you with sweets, fix your boo-boos with an ice cream cone, or make your favorite meal (or take you out to one) to celebrate your successes, you’d probably be in the vast minority if you didn’t develop some emotionally based attachments to food while growing up. When in times of stress, few things can be as powerfully comforting or rewarding as your favorite food. Because many people don’t develop more effective coping strategies, this type of emotional eating is very common: people eat to celebrate, eat to feel better, eat to deal with the stress of being overweight. Stuffing Emotions Another emotional reason that many people eat is to quiet uncomfortable emotions. People who are uncomfortable with confrontation may deal with frustrations in their marriage with a piece of cake, for example, rather than with open communication.    Food can take the focus off of anger, resentment, fear, anxiety, and a host of other emotions we’d sometimes rather not feel, and is often used for this purpose. While there are many reasons for emotional eating, and it’s a prevalent fixture in our society, it’s not necessarily good for us, as anyone who’s watching their weight will tell you. If you’re an emotional eater, it’s important for you to be aware of this, keep an eye on your triggers, and develop some effective stress management techniques and coping skills, so that your body stays healthy and you choose your diet, rather than feeling out of control. Elizabeth Scott, MS Updated June 07, 2016 Psychological stress has been suggested to change dietary pattern towards more unhealthy choices and as such to contribute to overweight. Emotional eating behaviour could be an underlying mediating mechanism. The interrelationship between stress, emotional eating behaviour and dietary patterns has only rarely been examined in young children. Nevertheless, research in children is pivotal as the foundations of dietary habits are established starting from childhood and may track into adulthood. In 437 children (5  – 12 years) of the ChiBS study, stress was measured by questionnaires on stressful events, emotions (happy, angry, sad, anxious) and problems (emotional, peer, conduct and hyperactivity). Data were collected on children’s emotional eating behaviour and also on dietary patterns: frequency of fatty foods, sweet foods, snacks (fat and sweet), fruit and vegetables. Stressful events, negative emotions and problems were positively associated with emotional eating. Positive associations were observed between problems and both sweet and fatty foods consumption. Negative associations were observed between events and fruit and vegetables consumption. Overall, stress was associated with emotional eating and a more unhealthy dietary pattern and could thus contribute to the development of overweight, also in children. Nevertheless, emotional eating behaviour was not observed to mediate the stress  – diet relation. Stress, emotional eating behaviour and dietary patterns in children Nathalie Michelsa, , , Isabelle Sioena, b, Caroline Braetc, Gabriele Eibend, Antje Hebestreite, Inge Huybrechtsa, Barbara Vanaelsta, b, Krishna Vynckea, b, Stefaan De Henauwf a Department of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University, De Pintelaan 185, 2 Blok A, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium b Research Foundation  –  Flanders, Egmontstraat 5, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium c Department of Developmental, Personality and Social Psychology, Ghent University, H. Dunantlaan 2, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium d Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Sahlgrenska Academy, Box 454, University of Gothenburg, 40530 Göteborg, Sweden  e BIPS  –  Institute for Epidemiology and Prevention Research, Bremen, Germany f Department of Health Sciences, Vesalius, University College Ghent, Keramiekstraat 80, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium Received 8 June 2012, Revised 7 August 2012, Accepted 11 August 2012, Available online 20 August 2012 Appetite Volume 59, Issue 3, December 2012, Pages 762  – 769 Emotional eating is most often defined as (over)eating in response to negative affect (Thayer, 2001) For example, Sims et al. (2008) found that perceived stress explained a higher proportion of the variance in emotional eating in a sub-sample of overweight and obese participants than in the overall sample. However, there are few studies that address specific emotions in relation to emotional eating. Thayer (2001) cites feelings of increased tension and low- energy, “tense tiredness,” as the primary culprit in emotional eating, as it underlies many of the negative moods (for example, depression and anxiety) that have been found to be associated with overeating. Hence, food is used in an attempt to self-medicate and self-regulate mood. This seems quite plausible in an age where looks seem to be an increasing concern for boys (Cohane & Pope, Jr., 2001), and is further supported by the fact that in these analyses the covariate of weight concerns was related to emotional eating in boys. Although we have seen this association for girls (Johnson & Wardle, 2005), additional studies should include or also focus on males in their samples in order to increase understanding of these issues for boys as it seems to be important for them as well. Psychological Determinants of Emotional Eating in Adolescence SELENA T. NGUYEN-RODRIGUEZ, JENNIFER B. UNGER, and DONNA SPRUIJT-METZ Eat Disord. 2009 May  – Jun; 17(3): 211  – 224. doi: 10.1080/10640260902848543 A recent study conducted by Patricia Goodspeed Grant (2008) involved investigating the psychological, cultural and social contributions to overeating in obese people. She found that eating for comfort for the morbidly obese is rooted in using food to manage experiences of emotional pain and difficult family and social relationships. Her participants reported that what had been missing from all treatment programs they had tried was the “opportunity to work on the psychological issues concurrently with weight loss”.  The Psychology of Food Cravings and Emotional Eating Written by   Dr Peta Stapleton  Alice Oglethorpe and Noelle Howey, additional reporting by Julia Edelstein Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal Ph.D., and Robert Segal, M.A. Last updated: April 2017.


Dec 14, 2018
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