Stress plagues us all, coming up at seemingly the worst times and affecting our daily lives. There are many healthy ways to deal with stress, from support groups to hobbies and even just hanging out with friends. Some of the effects of stress lead individuals to turn to food for comfort. While this may seem innocuous, emotionally eating does have certain health effects. Let’s explore the intricacies of stress eating and the importance of finding alternative ways of coping with life struggles.
What Exactly Is Stress Eating?
Stress eating—also known as emotional eating—is characterized by the tendency or urge to eat in large amounts due to stress or negative emotions. According to the American Psychological Association, around 27% of Americans say they eat to overcome stress, with 34% reporting that they believe it has become a habit. Foods high in sugar and fat can provide a boost to the brain’s reward sensors, but this boost is usually short-lived. Because of the desire to quell the stress, individuals enact these eating behaviors repeatedly, which can eventually lead to a disconnect between the brain and stomach.
Is Stress Eating an Eating Disorder? When Does It Become a Problem?
Stress eating by itself isn’t technically an eating disorder, but it certainly can lead to one. As discussed by Frontiers in Psychology, emotional eating is typically associated with a higher calorie intake. This intake can impact weight loss goals and lead to uncomfortable feelings and thoughts that lead to more consumption. Over time, individuals risk eating disorders and can become overweight or obese due to their negative behaviors. So while stress eating technically isn’t an eating disorder, it creates habits that lead to a much higher risk of these problems.
How Do I Know If I Have an Eating Disorder?
Stress eating for long periods leads to eating disorders like binge eating and bulimia nervosa. Negative emotions and a lack of focus on the underlying causes of stress, combined with the desire to eat (or restrict eating), are the recipe for eating disorders. Stress eating will slowly become an eating disorder, so don’t expect there to be an on/off switch that triggers the condition.
Binge Eating Disorder
As U.S. pharmacists detailed, binge eating disorder is the most common disorder in America, affecting around 3.5% of women, 2% of men, and about 1.6% of adolescents. Stress eating becomes a binge eating disorder when individuals eat large amounts of food over six or more months, focus on rapid food consumption, and show an inability to control how much they eat. Additionally, individuals with binge eating disorders will continue eating past the point of physical hunger.
Individuals struggling with bulimia nervosa from their stressful eating habits usually follow their large meals with a purging episode right afterward. They may use anything from diuretic pills to self-induced vomiting tactics and laxatives. Additionally, individuals with bulimia endure very similar emotions and feelings as those with binge eating disorders, so be sure to reach out for help if you believe these disorders are plaguing you or someone you know.
Treating Stress Eating
Treating stress eating starts by practicing mindful eating and other healthy eating habits. Developing a trusted routine, either focused on healthy calorie consumption or different ways to relieve stress, is a good way to prevent stress eating from leaving a lasting impact. Open communication is key, as it’s very easy for someone to find ways to eat without being seen. Finally, contacting a local treatment center like Aster Springs gives you access to quality service and treatments like our binge eating disorder programs. By educating yourself or others on healthy nutritional habits and providing specialized therapy, we can help individuals overcome stress eating and its effects
Aster Springs Can Provide the Aid You Need to Overcome Stress Eating
Stress eating is never a positive practice, even if you don’t have an eating disorder. Eating in response to stress only creates more short- and long-term difficulties, leading to further problems that worsen your stressors. Practicing healthy eating habits and other ways to reduce stress can help, as would reaching out to your local eating disorder network. Aster Springs’ mental health professionals help prevent people from developing an eating disorder and promote mindful eating and other ways to recover from binge eating or bulimia nervosa. Contact Aster Springs today at 804-415-7603 if you or a loved one are struggling to overcome stress eating.