Six different faces depicting different emotions on wooden cubes.

Is Emotional Eating an Eating Disorder?

When relying on food as a source of emotional support, it can lead to a few adverse outcomes. Is there a line between emotional eating and eating disorders? How do we prevent emotional eating from becoming something much worse?

What Causes Emotional Eating?

One of the most important things to note regarding emotional eating is that anything can cause a strong desire to do it. Things like stress at work, financial worries, relationship difficulties, and underlying health issues are responsible for individuals turning to food for comfort and suppression of negative emotions. Additionally, people with very restrictive diets or a history of disordered eating or dieting are more likely to find themselves eating emotionally. Some other causes include a lack of awareness of how you feel or an inability to understand or process your emotions effectively.

What Separates Emotional Eating from Eating Disorders?

On its own, emotional eating isn’t an eating disorder, but it can lead to the development of one. Eating in response to emotional distress is an automatic behavior that can be difficult to control. It’s also considered a characteristic of disordered eating, or eating habits or behaviors that can eventually lead to eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia nervosa.

Ongoing stress eventually leads to cortisol release, increasing an individual’s appetite. Over consistent levels of stress, cortisol remains high. This stress also leads to a desire to consume more sugar and high-fat foods. These foods lead to increased cravings, which affects the food consumption cycle.

When Emotional Eating Becomes an Eating Disorder

It’s important to remember that eating disorders don’t always revolve around body weight or body image. In many cases, individuals turn to high consumption of food as a way to take back control of their lives. These habits may eventually lead to the onset of an eating disorder. Here are some signs that your eating habits might be leading you down a path toward an eating disorder:

  • Frequent episodes of binge eating with increasing levels of food
  • Eating past the point of feeling full
  • Secretly eating food or hiding food to be eaten later
  • Feeling of shame or guilt during or after heavy food consumption

Anorexia Nervosa

Individuals who attempt to halt their poor eating behaviors or emotional eating can slowly develop anorexia nervosa. This condition involves strictly reducing food intake as a way to control the mind and body. In response to emotional eating, they may significantly restrict their intake.

Bulimia Nervosa

Individuals with bulimia nervosa may eat past the point of comfort but feel a strong urge to purge their food afterward. They may also turn to activities like exercise or strict dieting to stop their weight gain. People who engage in emotional eating behaviors will often feel full and uncomfortable, leading to purging through vomiting, laxatives, and diuretics to relieve the stress.

How Can I Prevent Emotional Eating from Turning into Something Worse?

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the complications of emotional eating. Poor eating habits don’t have to hold you back, and it starts with finding ways to break the cycle of overeating under stress. Follow these suggestions below or turn to local mental health professionals like the team at Toledo Center. Programs like PHP eating disorder treatment can give you the knowledge and expertise to help you through your emotions and your relationship with food.

  • Practice stress management techniques like yoga or meditation
  • Get support from a mental health professional or family and friends
  • Choose snacks with high nutritional value
  • Plan out your meals
  • Practice not immediately acting on cravings and giving them time to pass
  • Keep a food diary, tracking when and what you eat and the emotions you are feeling.

How Toledo Center Can Help You Restore a Healthy Relationship with Food

It’s not uncommon for people to resort to emotional eating to deal with stress, but that doesn’t mean it’s a safe or healthy method. If you believe you’re struggling to maintain a quality relationship with food, the team at Toledo Center is here to help. With cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders and other advanced treatment methods, we have everything you’ll need to keep emotional eating from taking over your life. Fill out our contact form to get in touch with our team, or call us today at 562-434-6007 to speak with one of our medical professionals and get the help you need.




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