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Is emotional eating a sign of depression?

Is Emotional Eating A Sign of Depression?

Depression is a normal human emotion, and it is experienced by just about everyone. You feel upset or dejected because of some event or situation, or you are despondent because of something you perceive as negative in your life, possibly caused by your own behaviors.

Depression can exist for a number of reasons, and with most people, it is usually short-lived. We find a way to move past our negative feelings, we experience joy and other positive feelings, and the depression cloud is lifted.

What happens when you are depressed and go on an unhealthy eating binge?

Is that emotional eating episode a sign that you are depressed, or a cause of the depression? Are the two related at all? Is there a causal relationship, or is this just a coincidence?

Emotional Eating - a Cause and Symptom of Depression

Your emotional state when you are eating to improve your mood or celebrate a joyful feeling is not the healthiest. After you have finished gorging on unhealthy food, you may experience frustration, self-hatred, and even depression.

You can't believe that once again you ate so much comfort food, and you are angry with yourself. This self-doubt as to why you can't control your eating can blossom into full-blown depression.

Depression also may develop as a state of emotions that leads to mood-based eating. You are depressed over your financial situation, a lack of control in your life, a failed relationship or some other perceived loss or failure.

Your brain remembers that when you ate certain comfort foods and junk foods in the past, the chemicals in those foods caused a release of "feel good" hormones.

Your brain sends out an immediate hunger signal, begging you to locate and consume the unhealthy comfort foods which unfortunately lead to such a positive, short-term emotional feeling. In this way, your emotional eating was caused by your depressed mental state.


Psychologists and nutritionists have noticed this relationship between depression and eating for emotional reasons.

Sometimes depression causes stress eating, and many times, the feelings which accompany this unhealthy eating habit can lead to depression. However, the two are not always connected.

Emotional eating sometimes occurs when you are overjoyed. You turn to comfort foods to reinforce a wonderful event in your life that has caused positive emotions. When you eat this way most of the time, celebrating positive feelings by overeating unhealthy comfort and junk food, you can still do your body a lot of damage.

However, this behavior is triggered by "up" emotions, and not the "down" emotional state of depression.

Battling the Emotional Eating/Depression Relationship

The next time you are feeling blue, address your feelings. Think about why you are so down and depressed, and be aware that this mental state could cause an unhealthy eating reaction.

When you realize you are eating in response to an emotion, don't beat yourself up about it. This could lead to a full-blown bout of depression, further damaging your emotional health along with your physical well-being.

Why is emotional eating bad for you?

Why Is Emotional Eating Bad For You?

From the time we are born, we associate food with love. The first food we take in is mother's milk. Unconsciously, at this very tender and formative age, we associate this sustaining food with the love of our mother. From this very earliest eating experience, a positive emotion is attached to feeding.

As we get older, delicious sweets and treats are associated with positive life events such as birthdays and holidays. Complete with simple carbohydrates and sugar, many of these foods are extremely unhealthy. Unfortunately, they trigger a release of chemicals that leads to short-term positive emotions. It is in this way that some people become addicted to junk food, and find it very difficult to resist.

Since emotional eating almost always seeks to deliver positive emotions through food, and the food that emotional eaters consume is not usually the healthiest, a myriad of health problems can develop. This is why it is so important to get a handle on exactly why you eat, what you eat, and when you eat.

The 2 Main Problems Caused by Emotional Eating

When emotions drive your eating behavior, you typically eat too much food, and the wrong types of food. This can lead to any number of health conditions, including obesity, depression, heart disease, skin problems, etc. This brings to light one of the 2 major problems which emotional eating causes...

Poor Health

Emotional eating is bad for you when it happens most of the time. Emotional eaters don't usually gorge on healthy fruits and vegetables.

They eat food with sugar, salt, white flour, gravy, cheese, ice cream, baked goods, sweets and treats, and they eat large, unhealthy quantities. Because these foods don't have the nutrients, minerals and vitamins your body needs to stay healthy, you encounter a number of brain and body-based health problems.

Since these foods contain chemicals and ingredients which cause addiction, such as HFCS - high fructose corn syrup - you get hooked on unhealthy foods as opposed to healthier alternatives, and poor health is your reward.

Ignoring Your Emotions

The second major way emotional eating causes problems in your life has to do with something it does not accomplish. When you eat food in response to an emotional need, you are not addressing your emotions. You are ignoring your emotional health, while simultaneously creating physical and mental health problems.

The core emotion at the base of your stress eating never gets the attention it needs, so you continue to suffer emotionally. Emotional eating is bad for you because it damages your body physically, promotes mental health problems, and you stay emotionally unfulfilled.

The next time you are about to attack an extra-large serving of comfort food, ask yourself if you are really hungry. If you would be happy eating a bowl of vegetables instead of a pizza, you are probably experiencing physical hunger. If your hunger comes on suddenly and you absolutely must have comfort food only, you are probably, and most assuredly, eating as a response to your emotions.

How do you know if you have an emotional easting disorder?

How Do You Know If You Have An Emotional Eating Disorder?

Emotional eating is not recognized as its own, separate eating disorder. However, it is a problem because it can lead to multiple health issues. Also, emotional eating is frequently seen as a behavior that accompanies classic eating disorders, sometimes as a cause and sometimes as a symptom.

You may have recognized times in your life where you answered a negative or positive emotion by eating and indulging in too much food.

Does this mean that you are absolutely out of control with your emotions, and you have a real eating problem? On the other hand, this could be normal behavior that is not a real problem, if you don't do it most of the time. The bottom line is this ... you want to know how you can determine if you have a full-blown emotional eating problem or not.

Symptoms of Emotional Eating

Here are a few of the more common signs and symptoms of an emotional eating issue that is out of control.

oYou have a hunger that attacks suddenly. Real hunger builds up slowly. Emotional eating, also called stress eating, hits you out of nowhere. This is one way for you to recognize emotional as opposed to physical hunger. The urge to eat is sudden and sometimes overwhelming, and this is not how the normal, physiological hunger process works.

oYou eat mindlessly. You eat just to be eating, while you are watching TV or talking on the phone, and before you know it, all you have around you are several empty fast food wrappers.

oYou never feel full. When you eat in response to physical hunger, you get full eventually. Sometimes emotional hunger continues to attack long after you have eaten enough food to answer a physical hunger attack.

oEmotional hunger is hallmarked by specific comfort foods. If you went without eating for two or three days, even the most hated vegetables would be consumed rapidly. Normal hunger means eating just about anything to satiate your hunger signal. If your eating is emotion-based, you want nothing but a pizza, a cheeseburger, ice cream or some other specific unhealthy, comfort food.

oYour hunger signals don't come from your stomach. We have all had a growling in our stomach telling us to eat. Emotional hunger often is a mental craving, instead of a signal from your gut.

oIf eating causes guilt, regret, shame and self-hatred, you are likely eating in response to some emotion. When your body sends out a signal to your brain to tell you to eat for nutrition-based reasons, you don't usually suffer from negative emotions after eating.

oYou notice that you eat more when you are in a particular situation or environment. Often times, emotional eaters develop stress-related patterns of poor eating behaviors. You overeat unhealthy comfort foods any time you are around a specific coworker, in your car heading to and from work, when you are studying for a test, or in some other stressful situation on a regular and repetitive basis.

What causes emotional eating?

What Causes Emotional Eating?

If you have attempted to stifle sorrow or celebrate joy by eating, you know what mood-based eating is all about. It is normal to celebrate your birthday with some cake and ice cream, but emotional eating gets out of control when it happens most of the time.

This can lead to health problems like overweight and obesity, diabetes and heart problems, and brain-based issues like stress, anxiety and depression. People who don't have a problem with emotional eating tend to believe it is caused by a simple lack of self-control. The emotional eater should just "toughen up", and stop overeating as a response to feelings rather than hunger.

That approach leads to no resolution, because people with eating disorders are sometimes the most dedicated to solving their problems. They go on diets and seek the aid of mental health professionals, but for one reason or another, for some people, emotions continue to trigger an eating response.

Why is this?

What is causing so many people to eat in an attempt to regulate their moods, rather than for hunger? The answers are many, and as diverse as individuals are. However, nutritionists, psychologists and eating disorder specialists have identified some triggers which show up again and again when emotional eating is present.

If you find any of the following causes of this eating issue are present in your life, it can help you avoid giving into eating for emotional reasons.

Hating Your Body

You may think people unhappy with the way they look physically, will diet and eat less in an attempt to create the transformation they are looking for. However, it is very common to do just the opposite. You may hate the way you look, and this opinion is negatively reinforced by a countless stream of marketing messages which tell you that you must look a certain way.

You don't like how your body looks, and this negative feeling causes you to eat comfort foods so that you can feel better momentarily. After your emotional eating session, you realize that you probably didn't do your body any favors. This drives home your feelings of shame and self-hatred, unhealthy and untrue emotions that you tried to appease with food. Loving yourself now is necessary to stop the emotional eating cycle which is causing more damage to your body.

A Lack of Awareness

Unconscious eating is often emotionally based. You are not conscious of what you are doing, what you are eating or why you are eating. When a moment of clarity and consciousness hits you, you realize what you have just eaten. To cure this, be aware and mindful of every time you eat, and honest with yourself as to why you are eating.

Eating Is the Only Thing You Have To Look Forward To

For some, food is perceived as the only good thing in their life. Therapists say emotional eaters often look forward to their meals, because they see eating and its temporary pleasure as the best thing they ever experience.

Some foods cause the release of chemicals that trigger a pleasure response as powerful as cocaine and heroin. Unfortunately, these are usually junk foods that are less than healthy.

Going Too Long Without Eating

Some people tend to eat just one meal a day. Unfortunately, this leaves your body starved of the nutrients it needs most of the day. This means you are mentally not prepared to deal with urges and cravings, and when you finally do eat, it is very easy to overeat comfort foods to answer the "I have been starving all day!" message your brain is giving off.

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What Is Emotional Eating?

What Is Emotional Eating?

Have you ever celebrated a big promotion or some life event with a celebratory dinner complete with your favorite "feel good" foods? Or have you had to deal with sadness, and to help you deal with your emotions, a gallon of rocky road ice cream seems the perfect prescription.

We do it all the time. We answer emotional needs by eating. We may or may not be physically hungry, but nonetheless, we consume "comfort food" in response to the way we feel. This is called emotional eating. While emotional eating is not an eating disorder itself, it is a common symptom of people with eating disorders.

Put very simply, emotional eating is when you use food in an attempt to manage your moods. More often than not, this is an unconscious response, rather than a rational choice.

Sadly, this is not an uncommon practice. Those who study eating disorders believe that as much as 75% of all eating takes place because of emotions. That is a staggering statistic. That means that most of the time when you eat, you are not simply trying to give your body the nutrition it needs to function properly. Most of the time, you are trying to regulate your mood with food.

Emotional Eating Wrecks Your Diet Plans

How powerful is eating for emotional needs? A study reported in Obesity magazine showed that emotional eaters who successfully lose weight by following some diet are much more likely to gain that weight back than non-emotional eaters.

This doesn't mean normal celebratory eating because of a birthday, holiday or anniversary.

Some emotional eating is good. When you are spending time honoring a celebration or holiday with friends and family, and good food is a part of that celebration, you create wonderful memories that you can look back on and smile. Rewarding yourself with your favorite comfort food at the end of a week successfully following a strict diet just makes sense too.

The problem occurs when you consistently turn to emotional eating as a coping mechanism. You overeat on a regular basis, and the foods you focus on are generally not that good for you. Constant emotional eating can lead to eating problems such as night eating syndrome or binge eating disorder.

Why Eating to Manage Moods Doesn't Work

People who overeat to calm their emotions usually feel bad about what they're doing. They are upset about their relationship with food. After they have consumed a lot of comfort food in order to make themselves feel better about something, they realize what they have done. This causes them to feel distressed and frustrated at themselves.

Guess what happens? They answer those negative emotions with food. This creates a vicious cycle where poor health, obesity, overweight, diabetes and depression are often the rewards for this unhealthy eating practice.

If you are concerned you may be responding to your emotions with food too frequently, talk to a therapist or mental health professional.

You may also want to take the emotional eating test offered for free by Psychology Today. That test takes about 25 minutes, and is located at the following link.
https://PsychologyToday.com/tests/health/emotional-eating-test


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