Editorial: Do you feed food to your feelings?

Column By Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Emotional eating, stress eating, comfort eating, bored eating, compulsive eating, overeating, or binge eating. Using food to soothe emotions is a temporary fix. You feel better during the feast, but worse when you’re stuffed like a holiday turkey. 

A review of 24 studies found that being distracted during a meal led people to consume more calories at that meal. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Intuitive eating, mindful eating, and attentive eating are concepts whereas you focus on the flavor, texture, smell, and color of food as you eat. Distractions like cell phones, computers, and television need turned off for the duration of meals. Slower-paced eating and thoroughly chewing food is associated with fullness. How many of us rush through breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a daily basis? Are we teaching kids to hurry-scurry through meals? Do we need to examine our fast-food pace with our microwave lifestyle?

The Emotional Eating Cycle

Something happens to upset you or a sad memory slips into your brain, or a worry about the future pops up. Maybe you feel lonely or left out. Stress starts your craving for yummy food. Presto! An overwhelming urge to eat takes over. Your emotions jump on the rollercoaster and away you go: up, down, around. Usually, the food is sweet, salty, fatty, or all three. Nobody overindulges on broccoli or gobbles garbanzos. 

Overeating is not the same thing as binge eating disorder (BED). Many of us overeat during holidays, at birthday parties, and at all-you-can-eat buffets. Or during unplanned events or crisis situations. Some individuals may overeat due to side effects of medication, metabolic issues, habit, or reaction from chronic stress.

The Binge Eating Cycle

To be diagnosed with BED, symptoms must meet specific criteria in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM 5), the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. www.psychiatry.org.

When the cycle becomes more and more out of control, confusion sets and individuals may question whether they have binge eating disorder. You’re in the twilight zone—focused on gorging. Guilt rushes in. Shame knocks on the door. Disgust and frustration drop in to join your private party. You vow to stop bingeing—until the next time.

People with BED go to the other extreme by restricting calories, which often causes more bingeing. And they try fad diets to lose weight. 

Ask yourself the following questions: Do you have episodes of eating a large amount of food in a short period of time while experiencing a sense of loss of control? Do you feel powerless to stop? Do you sneak and hide food? Do you feel shame, guilt, or regret after overeating? Do you eat when you’re not hungry? Do you eat alone because you’re embarrassed about how much you eat? Binge eating may be accompanied by depression or anxiety. 

“Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental and physical illnesses that can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights. National surveys estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. While no one knows for sure what causes eating disorders, a growing consensus suggests that it is a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors,” according to the National Eating Disorder Association. Binge eating disorder is the most prevalent eating disorder in adults.

Treatment for BED

Professional support and treatment from health professionals specializing in the treatment of binge eating disorders, including psychiatrists, therapists, and dieticians, can be the most effective way to address BED.

“Getting a diagnosis is only the first step towards recovery from an eating disorder. Treating an eating disorder generally involves a combination of psychological and nutritional counseling, along with medical and psychiatric monitoring. Treatment must address the eating disorder symptoms and medical consequences, as well as psychological, biological, interpersonal, and cultural forces that contribute to or maintain the eating disorder.” 


Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Southern Ohio. Contact her at melissamcolumnist@gmail.com.