Emotional Eating Disorder

Instructor: Emily Cummins
In this lesson, we'll talk about a condition known as emotional eating disorder, where sufferers use food to deal with emotions like depression, sadness, or boredom. This can lead to health complications like obesity and heart disease.

What Is Emotional Eating Disorder?

Eating is an important part of all of our lives. It's necessary for survival. It's also a social activity. Meal times can bring friends and family together. But for some people, food can also be associated with a number of psychological illnesses. Have you ever felt sad or bored, and reached for a bag of chips? Or maybe your favorite candy bar? Did this provide some temporary relief?

Emotional eaters often use food to deal with emotions like anxiety or depression
anxiety, binge eating

People suffering from an emotional eating disorder reach for food whenever they have negative feelings. Emotional eating disorders involve the use of food as a comfort to deal with depression, anxiety, boredom, or loneliness.

Let's talk a little bit about symptoms and causes of emotional eating disorders. We'll then talk about some treatment options.

Emotional Eating

People who engage in emotional eating turn to food to manage feelings, not out of physical hunger. People who eat for emotional feelings find themselves reaching for food throughout the day and continuing to eat even when full.

Emotional eating becomes a problem when you find yourself reaching for food every single time you're upset, or using food as your only coping mechanism when you're feeling bad. Emotional eating doesn't have much to do with physical hunger. It's about trying to fill a void or avoid negative feelings.

Emotional eating usually involves cravings for specific comfort foods that are often unhealthy.

Emotional eaters often crave comfort foods like pizza
pizza; emotional eating; binge eating

It's important to note that occasional emotional eating on its own is not necessarily considered an eating disorder. We've all had bad days, when we wanted to reach for that carton of ice cream in the freezer! However, if this happens every time you feel sad or upset, emotional eating can lead to more serious conditions.

Frequent emotional eating can lead to binge eating disorder. This is a serious condition where an individual eats a very large quantity of food in a short amount of time. This condition can lead to weight gain and obesity, as well as complications like diabetes and heart disease.

Emotional eating or binge eating can also lead to bulimia. People suffering from bulimia eat large quantities of food and then force themselves to vomit or use laxatives to get rid of the food. Bulimia is very serious and can damage the teeth and throat, cause ruptures in the stomach, and disrupt the body's electrolyte balance, which can cause heart attacks.


So why do some people use food to manage emotions? Psychologists believe there are a few reasons that might contribute to this.

First, it could simply be that we're not always conscious of what we're eating. Have you ever gone out to a restaurant where your server brought out a basket of bread or some chips and salsa out before the meal? Did you find yourself eating this appetizer without really paying attention? This kind of unconscious eating leads to eating more than we should.

Unconscious eating involves mindlessly reaching for snacks without realizing how much you are eating
emotional eating; unconscious eating

There are also physiological reasons that contribute to emotional eating. Some psychologists think that if we're very tired, we eat more than we should. Going too long without eating can also lead to eating too much. Have you ever had a long day at work, when you didn't get a chance to eat lunch, and when you get home you eat everything in sight?

Irregular hormones could be a factor. Do you find you eat more when you're stressed? When we're stressed out we have higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which can lead to artificially increasing cravings for salty or sugary foods.

Psychological factors include suffering from depression, anxiety, or low-self esteem. Some psychologists who study eating disorders think that self-hatred and body shame can lead to over-eating. When we hate our bodies, it can make negative feelings even worse, leading to more overeating. Bulimia is often associated with this.

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