What is Emotional Overeating Disorder? Tips on What to Do.

What Causes Emotional Overeating Disorder?

Emotional overeating disorders can be difficult and devastating for those who suffer from them. What makes this happen? Why is it that some people, knowingly or unknowingly, turn to food for comfort? Here are some thoughts and ideas on those questions.

Emotional overeating disorder is a general term that refers to any of various eating habits where genuine hunger is not the motivational factor. It is more common among women than men, but men are not immune – especially young men in their teens and twenties. Those who suffer from this disorder associate food with emotional comfort, and will turn to eating to escape negative feelings.

Past Trauma

For some with emotional overeating disorder, the problem stems from past traumatic events. Someone who suffered sexual abuse, for example, or some other kind of sexual trauma may overeat in response to feelings of anxiety and confusion. The result is a fatter body, which some sources suggest may cause the sufferer to feel “protected” from being attractive to the opposite sex. Subconsciously or consciously, the sufferer wants to be unattractive. Other examples of past trauma or unmet needs may cause a person to turn to emotional overeating.

Poor Self-Image

People who suffer from low self-esteem and a negative self-image may seek escape by overeating. In a way, emotional overeating is a physical expression of what the sufferer feels inside, and the resulting weight projects the same image of self-disrespect.

Self-Medication

Like alcoholics, those who struggle with emotional overeating may be unconsciously using food as a drug. Eating numbs or dulls the emotions that might be too hard to deal with otherwise.

Depression

Studies indicate a strong correlation between depression and emotional overeating. Ironically, sometimes as depression grows worse a sufferer loses weight; weight loss means the sufferer is not eating as much, and therefore not engaging in his or her coping mechanism.

Stress

Prolonged, unrelieved stress can have a profound effect on the body. Stress stimulates the body to produce, among other chemicals, the hormone cortisol. Cortisol apparently has a hunger-stimulating effect, and as the stressful emotions increase along with the cortisol, a cycle of emotional eating can play out.

Individual Triggers

There are triggers or causes of emotional overeating that are not necessarily in the categories above. Some examples might be:

* Boredom
* Oral need or a need to satisfy your mouth’s need to do something
* Social pressure or embarrassment at eating in public, resulting in overeating in private
* Financial stress
* Relationship difficulties

Emotional Overeating: Knowing Where to Turn

Emotional overeating can seem like a prison with no way out, and when you do think of seeking treatment, it can seem too overwhelming to consider. Sometimes it helps to have some simple steps and treatment programs laid out clearly, so it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. Following is a list of common treatment options for emotional overeating disorder, as well as some tips on things you can do and some cautions on what not to do.

Common Treatments

First, recognize your problem. Know you’re not alone – the number of people who suffer from emotional overeating disorder is significant.

* Counseling – Individual, group, or family counseling can prove very helpful for people who experience emotional overeating. Counseling treatment usually involves some nutritional and dietary guidelines and treatment of underlying emotional problems.

* Surgery – This is a somewhat controversial treatment for emotional overeating – it addresses the physical aspect of the problem rather than the emotional. However, in combination with emotional therapy and extensive medical counseling, surgery is a viable choice for some sufferers. Usually, surgical options involve decreasing the space available in the stomach, usually by a lap-band or gastric bypass procedure.

* Medication – Under the care of a professional, medications – usually anti-depressants – have been shown to provide relief for many who suffer from emotional overeating. This may be due to the suspected connection between overeating and depression – research continues to point to the relationship between the two problems.

Tips – What You Can Do

* Exercise regularly – Yes, you’ve heard this one, but it’s really an important aspect of managing emotional overeating. Exercise may improve mood, improve energy levels, and increase your self-image – all part of overcoming emotional overeating. You can start with just 20 minutes of brisk walking three to six times a week.

* Eat well – What you do eat is as important as what you’re “not allowed” to eat! Sometimes, emotional overeaters can be overcome by cravings for certain “forbidden” foods, like ice cream, candy bars, and potato chips. But if you’re full of and surrounded by healthy foods, you can dig in without feeling guilty. Keep fresh produce on hand and eat lots of lean protein, veggies, fruits, and whole grains.

What Not to Do

 

* Keep unhealthy snacks handy – If you don’t have the unhealthy food in the house, you will probably be less likely to head for it in times of emotional distress. In other words, make it hard on yourself to get the foods you want to eat when feeling bad – cross ice cream, junk foods, and fatty snacks off your grocery list.

* Crash diet – Trying to starve yourself or go on an extended fast is not recommended. You may compromise yourself nutritionally and/or physically, and crash dieting tends to result in more overeating afterward.

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