What Is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is a person's tendency to react to emotions like stress, depression, and other difficult feelings by eating, even when physical hunger is not experienced. As our bodies need food to survive, eating lights up the brain's reward system and make a person feel better. So when experiencing difficult times, emotional eaters mostly crave high-carbohydrate or high-calorie foods with little nutritional value. Studies have found that about 40 percent of people eat more high-calorie foods when stressed, while about 40 percent eat less high-calorie in such situations, and 20 percent experience no change in the food that they eat when exposed to stress. The foods that emotional eaters take are often called comfort foods, like chocolates, ice cream, cookies, chips, burgers, and pizza. Unfortunately, emotional eating may feel like a way to cope in those moments, does not fix emotional problems and can lead to weight gain. This behavior is very common, and it is important to correct it as it can interfere with maintaining a healthy diet and lead to obesity.
What Causes Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is often caused by several factors rather than one single cause. Research shows that females are at higher risk for eating disorders, so they are at higher risk for emotional eating. However, other research shows that even men are more likely to eat when they feel depressed and angry. Also, a study indicates women eat more in response to failing a diet.
When under stress, the human body tends to produce an increased hormone called cortisol, similar to the Prednisone drug in its effects. Both trigger the body's stress response, like increased breathing and heart rate, visual acuity, blood flow to muscles, and increased appetite to supply the body with its required energy, resulting in cravings for comfort foods. People with chronic stress are at increased risk of having chronically high levels of cortisol in their bodies, which can cause them to develop chronic emotional-eating patterns.
In some individuals, excess eating may be due to a temporary silence for uncomfortable emotions, including fear, sadness, anxiety, shame, anger, resentment, and loneliness. While they try to numb their feelings with food but end up risking their body. In some individuals, childhood habits of getting rewards for performing well or doing good deeds with ice cream, pizza, burgers, etc., are often carried over into adulthood. In others cases, they may even be hit by nostalgia and end up overeating.
Most people eat food to satisfy their brain rather than their stomach during emotional eating. An unhealthy diet plays an important role in the development of cardiovascular disease. Eating behavior such as emotional eating, restrained eating, and external eating can negatively impact cardiovascular health. These disorders have been related to cardiovascular disease risk, cardiovascular damage, and metabolic syndrome (a group of conditions that occur together, increasing heart disease risk, stroke, and type 2 diabetes).
The relationship between emotional eating and cardiovascular diseases was first proposed by a study conducted between 1993 and 2016 and was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. People with cardiovascular damage were found to include diastolic dysfunction (stiffness in the heart) and carotid-femoral pulse-wave velocity (stiffness in the arteries). According to a study, an increase in pulse-wave velocity is associated with higher risks of stroke and heart disease. Diastolic dysfunction means the inability of the heart to relax after contraction, which is correlated with an increased likelihood of developing heart failure.
The connection between emotional eating and cardiovascular damage was determined after analyzing the age, sex, health conditions like diabetes and hypertension, education level, the median age difference between eating behavior measurement and cardiovascular damage, physical activity, body mass index, blood lipid levels, and the onset of cardiovascular disease during follow-up. Among the 916 adults, nearly half were women. About 13.4 years was the median time between the measurement of eating behavior and cardiovascular damage. The outcome of cardiovascular damage was measured at the fourth visit and assessed using the Dutch Eating Behaviour Questionnaire (DEBQ) during every survey. At the end of the study, the participants were identified with emotional eating with an increased risk of diastolic dysfunction and higher pulse-wave velocity.
The authors analyzed to find out the explanations for the associations between emotional eating and cardiovascular damage. They found a link between increased stress levels and emotional eating. Emotional eating was considered a reward system, where eating may reduce anxiety and stress, and eating comfort foods reduces the response to acute stress. However, there was no association with energy intake. Emotional eaters would consume high-calorie foods, leading to cardiovascular issues, but this was not the case. Emotional eaters mostly binge during stress periods and eat less during normal times. Compared with stable food intake, this irregular pattern may negatively affect the heart and blood vessels. So experts suggest that emotional eaters should know how to manage it, regardless of weight, to prevent cardiovascular damage later in life.
How Can One Control Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating can risk a person's life, so it is necessary to take immediate action to rectify it. However, it is difficult to change it suddenly; steady and constant determination can pave the way for curbing emotional eating.
Maintain an Emotional Diary - It is necessary to understand a person's emotional feelings and eating habits. The more people understand how they can feel when doing certain things, the better they can change things.
Other Ways to Cope With Feelings - After collecting more information about the situations, emotions, or thoughts that can trigger eating, it is necessary to start making life changes. If a person's emotion is triggered by stress or boredom, they should find other ways to cope with their emotions.
Physical Activity - Physical activity can be a powerful way to manage anxiety and stress. It can also reduce stress levels in the body and release endorphins to boost mood. Yoga and meditation provide extra benefits to mindfulness movements and reduce stress and anxiety.
Get Enough to Eat - Making sure we get enough to eat is an important habit. Our body needs to eat enough survival food, or we may get more cravings later in the day, ending up in unhealthy and excessive eating. Adding protein sources to the meal may keep our body fuller for longer.
Seek Support - Do not isolate in moments of sadness or anxiety; seek help from a friend or family member who can help in such a situation and alter a person's mood. Also, consider getting extra help from professionals.
In recent times many people have been affected due to emotional eating due to the stress, anxiety, depression, and other emotional factors they face in their life. Emotional eating is harmful to health and can cause heart disease, weight gain, obesity, etc. So the problem should be addressed to reduce the ill effects caused by emotional eating. When the issue is properly addressed, emotional eating can be well controlled.