Emotional Overeating: Self-Soothing Behavior Can Lead to a Cycle of Risky Consequences

Apr 29, 2024 | Main Blog | 1 comment

Disordered eating is a hot-button topic in the media. With so many buzzwords floating around – clean eating, all-natural, detox – it’s difficult to know what choices to make for our health. Underneath the surface of diet-related discussions are intense emotions, emotions that trigger disordered eating in the first place. April is Emotional Overeating Awareness Month – and this topic is growing increasingly relevant. This type of disordered eating occurs when we turn to food to soothe emotional issues (including frustration, sadness, and anxiety). Women are more likely to experience emotional overeating, which makes this topic especially relevant for Her Nexx Chapter.

There are several risk factors to consider when we think about emotional overeating. The most notable, as mentioned previously, is gender. A study published in Nutrients explains that women are more affected by mood disorders in general. These researchers measured women’s self-assessment of their anger (associated with words like “frustrated,” “resentful,” and “jealous”), anxiety (identified as “uneasy,” “shaky,” and “nervous”), and depression levels (described with terms including “worn out,” “lonely,” and “bored”). Women scored higher than men in all three categories.

How do these emotions translate into overeating? An article by Lifespan suggests that we are trained to associate food with comfort: “Think about your grandmother handing you a few Hershey’s Kisses when you were upset. Comfort came in the form of a little silver-wrapped morsel of chocolate and years later, you may still connect a sweet with love and feeling cared for.” As we grow older, we often find that food is a quick and easy fix for any kind of dissatisfaction or emptiness we feel. This repeated self-soothing behavior develops into a cycle with risky consequences.

The Nutrients study dives further into the exact emotional states that trigger overeating. These scientists found that mental states associated with depression are especially problematic. The highest-measured trigger for overeating may come as a surprise – it’s boredom. When we feel directionless, when there seems to be nothing else to do, many of us open the pantry for a distraction. When we are in this mental state, it is easy to lose track of what we are doing and eat more than we intend to, without even remembering it.

With this in mind, we can find manageable ways to tackle the issue of emotional overeating. The core of this issue is emotional imbalance – all of which is rooted in stress. We can self-soothe with physical activity, even if it’s as simple as going for a short walk. Another option is to engage with our creativity. Making art improves self-esteem and allows for mental clarity. It is key that we get in touch with our deeper selves to understand what is triggering emotional overeating. This may require the assistance of a professional therapist, who can provide specialized guidance and resources for those affected. This is an issue that countless people struggle with – there is no shame in seeking help! We all deserve to have healthy, fulfilling lives, without the influence of emotional imbalances.

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1 Comment

  1. Arlene Sofia

    I love Hershey Kisses, yet a simple tea with agave would be calming & a better choice.


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