By: Sarah Bond
Can you recollect the last time that you indulged in your favorite comfort food? Maybe you were nervous about an upcoming interview, a project at work, or the health of a family member. You are definitely not alone! When we feel stressed or anxious, many of us turn to foods that were given to us for comfort by our early caregivers during childhood (Cherylynn Glaser, M.A., personal communication, May 2013). Although eating food may feel soothing and provide short-term relief, dealing with our emotions this way can be detrimental. In fact, it can lead to an unhealthy cycle of eating that provokes us to eat more due to the associated guilt we feel after eating something that we regret (Cherylynn Glaser, M.A., personal communication, May 2013).
As a result, many of us gain weight and desperately turn to “crash” diet plans and supplements in hope of instantaneous weight loss results. Despite the great intentions and efforts of dieters, research suggests that most diets are ineffective in the long-term. It is reported that two-thirds of Americans are overweight and/or obese (Ogden, Carroll, Kit, & Flegal, 2012). Unfortunately, this epidemic leads to many health problems that can significantly impact quality of life and happiness.
Although it is recognized that there are many social, cultural, and genetic factors that can influence an individual’s body weight, the problem of emotion regulation is often overlooked. Emotional eaters eat more than they would normally eat in response to negative emotions (Wallis & Hetherington, 2004). Research indicates that this behavior is not partial to individuals who are overweight. Rather, emotional eating is also prevalent among “chronic dieters” and healthy individuals (Evers, Stok, & Ridder, 2010).
It is speculated that this overeating occurs as a means of escaping stressors. It is believed that individuals avoid dealing directly with their stressors by focusing their attention on food (Wallis & Hetherington, 2004). Thus, the underlying reason why overeating takes place among emotional eaters is because individuals do not have the psychosocial resources needed to properly cope with their feelings.
The good news is that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are evidence-based treatments that have been demonstrated to be effective methods of treatment for problems associated with emotion regulation. If you or someone you know suffers from emotional eating professional support is available. If you are in the San Diego area and would like to speak to a professional at CSAM who specializes in CBT and ACT, please contact us.
Evers, C., Stok, F., & Ridder, D. (2010). Feeding your feelings: Emotion regulation strategies and emotional eating. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(6), 792-804.
Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B.K., & Flegal, K. M. (2012). Prevalence of obesity and trends in body mass index among U.S. children and adolescents. Journal of the American Medical Association, 307(5), 483-490.
Wallis, D.J., & Hetherington, M.M. (2004). Stress and eating: The effects of ego-threat and cognitive demand on food intake in restrained and emotional eaters. Appetite, 43(1).