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Eat for anxiety: why it happens and how to control it

Eat for anxiety: why it happens and how to control it

February 8, 2023

Anxiety problems they are one of the main reasons for consultation in psychology clinics. The effects of this can interfere in all areas of our life, including our eating habits.

In many of the occasions in which a patient visits a center of nutrition and dietetics, it can be observed that beneath these bad eating habits there is a background associated to some type of emotional alteration, in which anxiety tends to have a leading role . In this article we will focus on eating anxiety , a frequent alteration in the day to day of many people.

  • Related article: "The 10 most common eating disorders"

What does eating for anxiety mean?

When our habits and behaviors related to food are conditioned by our mood, in this case an anxious mood, we can talk about emotional feeding. However, these routines can also be affected by other moods, such as sadness.

In these cases, the person does not eat because he is hungry or feels a physical need, but rather he does it to satisfy emotional needs . Eating is a behavior that releases numerous neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, that make us feel good. Therefore, although feelings of guilt may appear later, the reward and immediate sense of well-being help to reduce the anxiety that causes anxiety.

In this way, although we are not always aware of it, it is very likely that in those days that are stressful or distressing We end up eating unhealthy foods but they make us feel good.

Although pampering from time to time is something normal and even recommended, determine our diet based on how we feel, or try to deal with problems with food can make us fall in a vicious circle very harmful to our physical and mental health .

The main problem of eating out of anxiety is that this feeling of hunger can not be mitigated with food, but, as discussed above, we may end up feeling even worse than before.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Psychology and Nutrition: the importance of emotional feeding"

Its causes

Eating compulsively is a symptom very typical of anxiety states . When we look for temporary relief from negative emotions in food, we must understand that the problem does not lie in the act of eating or in the food itself, but in the anxiety itself. Therefore, if we are able to control it, it will be much easier for us to appease the imperative need to eat that it provokes.

However, there are a number of reasons that facilitate this need to eat for anxiety.

1. Inability to manage emotions

Traditionally we have been taught that negative emotions have no use beyond making us suffer; so it is better to hide them, repress them or contain them. As a consequence, a large number of people are unable to manage their emotions adequately and satisfactorily. Hence, eating for anxiety is a very recurring problem within the population.

2. Excess of self-control

The fact of spending all day trying to suppress or control the desire to eat may end up causing a rebound effect in which the person ends up eating large amounts of food in a very short space of time.

3. Food as the exclusive source of pleasure

Taste a good meal is a pleasure not negligible. However, when we only find wellness through it, turning it into the "responsible" of our satisfaction , we are facing a problem.

As discussed in the first point of the article, alleviating our anxiety or our anguish with food will only get us into a spiral of discomfort.

How to differentiate it from "normal" hunger?

The need to eat caused by anxiety, or emotional hunger, tends to appear suddenly and with such a 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 identify if this hunger is real or caused by our state of mind.

  • Appears unexpectedly and suddenly
  • Does not originate in the stomach , but our mind generates a series of mental images and representations of the food, its flavor, its texture, etc.
  • We eat automatically, without being aware of time or quantities.
  • They usually want a specific type of food or meals , almost always fatty foods or junk food.
  • We do not feel satiated.
  • After eating, feelings of guilt, regret or shame appear.

How to prevent this from happening?

Controlling these hunger pangs caused by anxiety is not an easy task. Since both hunger and emotions and feelings are not always easy to manage. However, below we will see a series of tips that can help when it comes to control and reduce the need to eat caused by anxiety.

1. Seek professional help

Once determined that the feelings of hunger are not physical but emotional, and that anxiety is the great culprit that we can not resist to assault the refrigerator In a compulsive way, it is advisable to request the help of a professional in psychology to help us manage and reduce the anxious symptoms and, therefore, the need to eat.

2. Identify the situations or moments when hunger appears

Surely the need to eat comes unleashed by some event that has affected us emotionally. These events can be from work stress, bad news or a bad encounter or even due to the hormonal changes of the menstrual cycle.

If we are able to detect the moments in which this sensation appears, it will be much easier for us to foresee them and elaborate strategies that help us avoid the compulsion to eat.

3. Learn to manage emotions

It is essential not to repress and keep negative emotions, but to perceive them as internal signs that there is something in our life that we must change or improve. A good emotional management, in which we find a satisfactory exit to our emotions will decrease our levels of anguish and tension and therefore our need to eat.

4. Search for other types of rewards

Another fundamental step to avoid hunger anxiety is to seek other types of rewards that generate the same satisfaction without the negative consequences of compulsive eating.

5. Perform relaxation exercises

To carry out exercises and relaxation techniques that help us to reduce tension and calm our mood It will have a direct and positive consequence on our anxiety levels.

6. Get enough sleep

In addition to increasing levels of fatigue and anxiety, not sleeping enough hours of sleep also has a direct effect on our body, increasing levels of hunger. If we add to this the hunger caused by anxiety, which is enhanced by not sleeping, we go back into an anxiety-dream loop that will not benefit us in any of the above aspects.

7. Perform physical exercise

The moderate physical exercise helps us to increase the levels of dopamine and relaxes the accumulated tension, reason why it is an essential ally at the time of diminishing the levels of anxiety.

8. Drink a lot of water

Increase our daily water consumption It will help to keep the feeling of hunger at bay. In addition, at times when it appears, drinking water can temporarily reduce the intense feeling of hunger for anxiety.

9. Keep the mind busy

Try to distract the mind in those moments when hunger for anxiety appears can be a good coping strategy. Divert attention with activities Like reading, talking with someone or doing some pleasant activity can be of great help.

How to Control Anxiety Disorder (February 2023).

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