Anxiety problems they are one of the main reasons for consultation in psychology clinics. The effects of this situation can interfere with all areas of our life, including our eating habits.
In many occasions, when a patient goes to a nutrition and dietetic center, it can be observed that under these bad eating habits there is a background associated with some kind of emotional alteration, in which the anxiety tends to play a leading role. In this article we will focus on eating out of anxiety, A frequent change in the daily life of many people.
What does it mean to eat out of anxiety?
When our eating habits and behaviors are conditioned by our mood, in this case an anxious mood, we can talk about emotional eating. However, these routines can also be affected by other moods, such as sadness.
In these cases, the person does not eat because they are hungry or have a physical need, but he does it to meet emotional needs. Eating is a behavior that releases many neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, which make us feel good. So, although feelings of guilt may appear later, the reward and the immediate sense of well-being help alleviate the emotion of anxiety that anxiety provokes.
This way, although we are not always aware, it is very likely that in these days when we find it stressful or distressing we end up consuming foods that are unhealthy but make us feel good.
While indulging in a whim from time to time is normal and even advisable, determining our diet based on how we are feeling or trying to cope with eating issues can bring us down. a vicious circle that is very harmful to our physical and mental health.
The main problem with food anxiety is that this hunger pang cannot be quelled with food, but, as discussed above, we can end up feeling even worse than before.
Compulsive eating is a very typical symptom of anxiety. When we look for temporary relief from negative emotions in food, we need to understand that the problem is not in the act of eating or in the food itself, but in our own anxiety. So, if we are able to control it, it will be much easier for us to allay the urgent need for food that it causes.
However, there are a number of reasons that make this craving to eat out of anxiety easier.
1. Inability to deal with emotions
We have traditionally been taught that negative emotions have no other use than to make us suffer; it is therefore better to hide them, repress them or contain them. As a result, a large number of people are unable to deal with their emotions properly and satisfactorily. For this reason, eating out of anxiety is a very common problem among the population.
2. Excessive self-control
Spending all day trying to suppress or control the urge to eat it can end up causing a rebound effect in which the person ends up eating large amounts of food in a very short period of time.
3. Eat as an exclusive source of pleasure
Enjoying a good meal is a significant pleasure. However, when there is only well-being through it, making her the “responsible” for our satisfaction, We are facing a problem.
As discussed in the first point of the article, relieving our anxiety or distress with food will only put us in a spiral of discomfort.
How to differentiate it from “normal” hunger?
The craving for food caused by anxiety or emotional hunger tends to come on suddenly and with such high intensity that in most cases it is very difficult to resist and differentiate it from a usual physical hunger attack.
However, there are some signs that can help us determine whether this hunger is real or caused by our mood.
- It appears unexpectedly and suddenly
- It does not come from the stomachBut our mind generates a series of mental images and representations of food, its taste, texture, etc.
- We eat automatically, without being aware of the time or the quantities.
- They usually like a particular type of food or mealAlmost always fatty foods or junk food.
- We don’t feel full.
- After lunch, feelings of guilt, remorse or shame appear.
How do you prevent this from happening?
Controlling these anxiety-induced hunger pangs is no easy task. Because hunger, emotions and feelings are not always easy to deal with. However, below we will look at a number of tips that can help control and reduce the craving for food caused by anxiety.
1. Seek professional help
Once it has been determined that feelings of hunger are not physical but emotional, and that anxiety is the main culprit in the fact that we cannot resist taking the refrigerator by storm compulsively, it is advisable to call a professional psychologist to help us manage and alleviate anxiety symptoms and therefore the need to eat.
2. Identify the situations or times when hunger appears.
The urge to eat is surely triggered by an event that has affected us emotionally. these events they can come from stress at work, bad news or a bad game or even due to hormonal changes inherent in the menstrual cycle.
If we are able to detect the times when this feeling arises, it will be much easier for us to anticipate them and to develop strategies that will help us to avoid the compulsion to eat.
3. Learn to deal with emotions
It is essential not to repress and store negative emotions, but to perceive them as internal signals that there is something in our lives that we need to change or improve. Good emotional management, in which we find a satisfying way out of our emotions it will decrease our anxiety and stress levels and therefore our need for food.
4. Look for other types of rewards
Another key step in avoiding anxiety hunger is to seek out other types of rewards that generate the same satisfaction without the negative consequences of compulsive eating.
5. Perform relaxation exercises
Perform exercises and relaxation techniques that help us reduce tension and calm our mood this will have a direct and positive impact on our anxiety level.
6. Get enough sleep
Besides increasing the levels of fatigue and anxiety, not getting enough sleep also has a direct effect on our body, increasing the levels of hunger. Add to this the hunger caused by anxiety, which is reinforced by not sleeping, we enter a loop of anxiety-sleep which will not benefit us in any of the above aspects.
Moderate exercise helps us increase dopamine levels and relax accumulated stress, making it an essential ally in reducing anxiety levels.
8. Drink lots of water
Increase our daily water consumption this will help keep the hunger pangs at bay. Additionally, at times when it does appear, drinking water may temporarily help decrease intense hunger pangs of anxiety.
9. Keep your mind busy
Trying to distract the mind at these times when hunger for anxiety arises can be a good coping strategy. Divert attention with activities like reading, talking to someone, or doing some nice activity can be very helpful.
- Fairburn, CG (1995). Overcome compulsive eating. New York: Guilford Press.
- Yanovski, SZ (1993). “Compulsive eating disorder: current knowledge and future indications”. Obesity research.