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How is stress related to eating disorders?

How is stress related to eating disorders?

July 14, 2024

In recent years, stress and its effects on both our body and our mind, have become one of the main reasons for consultation in the offices of doctors and psychologists. If to this stress, we add some type of eating disorder the impact on the health of the person is even greater .

Stress tends to lead to impulsive behaviors, so for people suffering from an eating disorder the stressors present in the environment and in society can lead to a worsening of the symptoms, since it is reflected in more serious food restrictions or in the increase in binge eating and purging behaviors.

What effects does stress have on eating disorders?

To better understand how stress affects the development of eating disorders, we must know how stress affects, in general, our body. In situations of stress, our body releases high levels of cortisol into the bloodstream.


This hormone, known as stress hormone, triggers a series of reactions like an increase in the respiratory rate and the elevation of the heart rate , among many others. When these cortisol levels remain chronic, a large number of alterations in the organism can appear such as sleep problems and disorders of the digestive, cardiovascular and immunological systems.

  • Related article: "The 6 stress hormones and their effects on the body"

Causes of eating disorders

In the case of people with some type of eating disorder, high levels of stress are usually caused by both social and environmental factors, which include the pressure exerted by society on the ideals or canons of a perfect body.


In addition, emotional factors such as feelings of guilt and shame that the person feels about their own body or image favor and enhance the development of these states of stress and continuous tension.

However, not everything is negative when we talk about stress. Stress does not always have to be related to negative feelings of anxiety and anguish . If people are able to learn and internalize effective stress-coping mechanisms, such as relaxation responses, it is possible to channel this energy into fuel for our motivation for action and change.

With the right tools and techniques, healthy levels of stress can be harnessed as a motivating force. In the specific cases of people suffering from an eating disorder, with the right help, stress can be the driving force that gives these people the power and motivation to find an alternative to their impulses with food.


This push or motivating energy can be used to find a way to reconcile with food and your own body, also finding activities that are pleasurable and that help them feel at peace in themselves.

Techniques to manage and reduce stress

However, the ability to turn stress into motivation and positive energy does not appear by magic. There are a lot of techniques that, carried out consistently and tenaciously can help the person with an eating disorder to alleviate and lessen the effects that stress has on their body and on their mind.

Then We present a series of extremely useful recommendations for managing stress and its consequences .

1. Muscle relaxation techniques

Through muscle relaxation techniques the person becomes aware of the state of their muscles and consequently is able to relax them . When our muscles are relaxed signals are sent to our brain to reduce the state of tension in which it is located, which facilitates the reduction of stress levels.

At the beginning, the person must voluntarily tense the different muscle groups of the body to then release the tension of these. This exercise involves from extremities to even the facial muscles.

2. Muscular massage

Following with physical relaxation techniques, Muscle massage therapy in muscle tension areas causes a relaxation response It helps reduce stress and relieves pain caused by the physical tension accumulated throughout the day.

Performing a massage in areas such as the neck, back and shoulders gives us a moment of relaxation and relieves stress that is not beneficial. Although these massages can be done by oneself, it is advisable to go to a specialist to minimize possible damages and enjoy even more this relaxing moment.

3.Activities such as yoga or tai chi

Practicing relaxing physical activities such as yoga or tai chi will help, in addition to being in shape, to develop a large number of body awareness techniques which enhance self-acceptance.

Through yoga it is possible to center the mind and the body, performing all kinds of movements that bring strength and balance. Numerous studies have revealed that this type of activities favor self-acceptance and the development of a positive self-concept. What is particularly useful in eating disorders.

Further, other activities such as reading or listening to music help us to distract ourselves and reassure us , providing a productive output to the energy that we have left at the end of the day.

4. Meditation exercises

There are innumerable meditation techniques that can be very useful to develop mindfulness about eating patterns and thoughts around the body and food.

Mindfulness exercises, breathing meditation and body exploration meditation are some of the most useful techniques. Which generate states of relaxation and encourage self-acceptance.

5. Relate to others

When we are stressed, It is particularly useful to seek contact with other people . Connecting with friends, family and people we love makes us feel much better. Telling the concerns or problems to trusted people humanizes our experiences and helps us release tensions

6. Connect with nature

Perform outdoor activities and walks, breathe fresh air and let the sun increase our levels of vitamin D , it will help us to reconstruct our thoughts and to release tension and stress.

By constantly practicing these relaxing techniques and activities, the person with an eating disorder will find an outlet for their feelings of stress and anxiety. This will favor the development of willpower and, together with the help of a health professional or in psychology, help in the process of reconciliation with your own body.

Bibliographic references:

  • Calvo Sagardoy, Rosa (2002) Anorexia and bulimia: a guide for parents, educators and therapists. Barcelona: Practical planet.
  • Esteban, M.L (2004) Anthropology of the body. Gender, body itineraries, identity and change, Barcelona, ​​Edicions Bellaterra.
  • Image and Self-esteem Foundation. "Basic guide on prevention and detection of eating behavior disorders for educators".
  • Toro and Vilardell, E. (1987) Anorexia nervosa. Martínez Roca, Barcelona.

How an eating disorder develops: Madi O'Dell's story (July 2024).


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