There is a real connection between people’s eating behavior and their state of mental wellness. How individuals think and view food can sometimes display mental health traits such as emotional eating and depression.
Eating is a necessary part of life. Often it is an action that is forgotten about and sometimes done automatically without much thought. The preparation and consumption of food is a central part of many traditions and celebrations. Yet, sometimes food is used to replace or ignore underlying emotional issues and feelings.
In these cases, individuals may engage in a behavior known as emotional or stress eating. Researchers have found that women who report high levels of stress may have a greater probability of displaying emotional eating type behavior.
Food cravings or something else:
Emotional eating should not be confused with the occasional food craving which nearly everyone experiences. However, when these food cravings occur in order to mask problems or negative emotions, this may be the sign of a deeper issue. Initially, stress-related eating is not harmful to a person’s health. However, if the behavior continues over a long enough period; other physical and mental health concerns could arise.
Over the long term, health issues may occur when the consumption of food is used as a way to suppress harmful, negative feelings. A few of these emotions include feelings like fear, disappointment, anger and loneliness. The physical act of eating can sometimes serve as a distraction, with the momentary pleasure of eating providing relief. In these cases, it is easier to engage in stress eating as a way to avoid problems and/or painful feelings.
Impact of social media:
People are now digitally connected in ways that have never existed in the past. There is some concern that the heavy consumption of social media may influence attitudes and feelings surrounding food. As social media influencers gain popularity, there is a medical understanding that their information is not always the best advice.
Researchers have found a correlation between an increase in negative feelings towards food consumption and a person’s mental view of their personal body image. Studies have found that people who used social media the most were twice as likely to display negative feelings towards food, eating and body image. These feelings can increase the occurrence of emotional eating. This correlation likely exists due to the fact that negative emotions can trigger stress eating behaviors in some individuals.
Strategies to reduce emotional eating:
There are a few strategies to control the impulse to engage in stress eating. Here are three methods:
 Unaware that they are eating:
People may automatically start eating and not really know that they are engaging in this behavior. This unconscious eating can happen when people are mindlessly watching television or working on the computer. Binge eating type behavior is also sometimes associated with this kind of unconscious eating activity.
One way to avoid this behavior is to not eat while watching television or working on the computer. Turn these devices off and pay attention to the meal. Sometimes, practicing a little mindfulness can help people become aware of their actions and not let negative behaviors take over.
 Understanding coping mechanisms:
Stress eating is sometimes used as way to mask painful thoughts and emotions. People sometimes have a difficult time processing unwanted thoughts and feelings. Negative body images and persistent feelings of anxiety can trigger stress eating behaviors. Eating is used as a way to cope with these emotions, which can create long-term health concerns.
Naturally, people want to avoid painful thoughts. But using food to distract from these negative feelings is not a healthy behavior. People should strive to recognize this behavior and not use food as a coping mechanism. If needed, individuals should seek the help of trained mental health professionals who can help to identify and provide treatment for these kinds of behaviors.
 Work to control food choices and portions:
By selecting healthier food options people can limit the impact of emotional eating behaviors. In the same manner, people should consciously consider the size of the portions they are eating. Officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have pointed out that many people now unknowingly eat larger portions, at least when compared to portion sizes in the past.
Due to this fact, the FDA has updated the nutrition facts label with the hope that it will be easier for individuals to better understand how much they are actually eating. The goal is to make it easier for people to realize and understand what, and how much, they are really consuming when they eat. When people monitor their portion sizes and food choices, it is easier to not simply engage in mindless eating due to boredom, irritation, etc.
If the above strategies do not help limit the occurrence of emotional or stress-related eating, individuals should strongly consider getting help from a trained mental health professional. Healthcare professionals who are trained to identify and treat anxiety disorders can help people successfully deal with emotional eating issues.
About our practice:
The successful treatment of anxiety-related mental health disorders is one of the specialties at Emerald Psychiatry & TMS Center. They understand that they are here to serve the needs and concerns of their patients. Their psychiatric practice is located near Columbus, Ohio in the town of Dublin.
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Contributor: ABCS RCM