The Emotional Eating Roller Coaster
Note: Please see the updates on healthism here. Flexibility, social connection, enjoyment of health, and not obsessing on perfection of diet is what makes health a means, not an end.
In my homepage blog, I reviewed how our nation is food obsessed. I discussed different theories behind what can lead to this infatuation with our plates. These included:
1. Starvation diets
2. Nutrient deficiencies
3. The role of our microbiome and fiber
4. Physical activity
5. Fast food and junk food
I also looked into the science behind how food can be addiction. (It may be worth it to just pop on my homepage on read the rat-cocaine-sugar study.)
Here’s the thing, appetite and cravings are a complex hodgepodge of factors that interact differently in different people. For example maintaining a healthy microbiome, food quality, stress mediation, hormonal balance, digestive health, activity level, genetics, gender (you can’t change this, but there are dietary and exercise implications), environmental exposures, neurotransmitter balance, and sleep hygiene are all involved in optimal weight management.
Dieting effects hormones, mood, can cause food addiction, and lead to a vicious cycle of disordered eating. Diet and starvation are definitely not the answer to our nation’s food issues. According to an article in the Telegraph:
Diet products may not work, but customers keep coming back to the concept. Research analysts Datamonitor found that just one in a hundred dieters managed to stay slim for a year after weight loss. Yet one third of those who have tried to lose or maintain their weight claim to be trying to slim down most of the time, according to Mintel, and Slimming World magazine has a higher circulation than Cosmo or Good Housekeeping, with 458,517 readers.
The more we diet, the more we overeat, which means that our obsession with healthy eating can lead us to consume more
“There’s this idea that restraint makes us want to make up for that and over compensate – in health psychology we call it
the ‘what the hell effect’,” says Steinmo. “Diets don’t last and as soon as you go off, you put all the weight back on and then some.”
Belly Fat & Binge Eating- Are They Connected in Women?
This nation of “weight watchers” has definitely effected our society’s self-esteem and body
satisfaction. A recent study explored the interaction between elevated body mass index (BMI), higher waist-to-hip ratio, and body dissatisfaction as risk factors of bulimic symptoms, loss-of-control (LOC) eating development over 2
years in 294 adult women. The study lends support to the fact that central body fat deposition is linked to body image dissatisfaction and a risk for LOC eating:
Independent of BMI, baseline total percentage body fat, percentage trunk fat, and percentage abdominal fat were related to greater body dissatisfaction. Total percentage body fat and trunk fat tended to be associated with greater
body dissatisfaction at all subsequent time points. Women with a greater percentage trunk fat, specifically abdominal fat, were at highest risk of developing LOC eating. In the full sample, women with higher baseline
percentage trunk and abdominal fat showed increases in LOC eating episode frequency over time, whereas LOC eating frequency remained stable among women with smaller percentages of fat in trunk and abdominal regions.
The Food-Mood Connection
I think it’s time that science pays more attention to one of the largest ignored factor in weight loss.. emotions. According to an article by Science Daily, many people are eager to lose weight by physical exercise and dieting alone, avoiding looking at the emotional impact of food decisions and weight effects:
The results of a national survey about weight loss barriers finds 90 percent of respondents discounted one of the most
important factors — your mind. A neuropsychologist says the most crucial factor is your psychological relationship with food and exercise, yet the majority (60 percent) listed diet and exercise to be the biggest barriers of weight loss, and only 10 percent of people thought psychological well being was the biggest barrier to weight loss.
However, the results of a 1562 employee questionnaire that explored the relationship between lifestyle
behaviors and emotional eating on body mass index (BMI) concluded:
Emotions may drive people with overweight and obesity to overeat. Sports activities may attenuate but do not
solve the problem. If we want to cure the disease, psychological treatment strategies have to be developed.
Interesting, another study reported that underweight and overweight individuals cope with negative events and situations by under or overeating respectively. However, underweight people also tended to eat more than overweight people during
positive states. Furthermore, one study suggested that females with eating disorders might “had poorer facial expressivity and a tendency to turn away from emotional displays.” Therefore, this proves once again there’s an interaction between genetics, environment, emotions, and that calories aren’t the whole picture.
One of my favorite mind-body food researcher is Deanna Minich. She discussed recently in her blog the connection between food and mood. Some of the factors included being bored, snacking, waking up early, and positive emotions driving food intake.
What’s the Bottom Line?
Appetite, cravings, and weight are complex results of a dynamic system, the beautiful biochemical and complex human beings that we are. Our obesity epidemic is beyond one factor, it’s a combination of many. If you really want to get to the root of our nation’s food obsession we don’t just need to change our BMI, but we need to transform our viewpoint and relationship to food.
Goldhill O.A nation of weight watchers: Is our obsession with thin making us fat? The Telegraph. August 1, 2014.
Berner LA, Arigo D, Mayer LES, Sarwer DB, Lowe MR. Examination of central body fat deposition as a risk factor for
loss-of-control eating. Am J Clin Nutr. October 2015; 102(4): 736-744.
Orlando Health. Food and Emotions: 90 percent overlook key to weight loss, survey finds: Expert says diets fail because
people don’t address the emotional aspects of food. ScienceDaily. December 1, 2015.
Koenders PG, van Strien T. Emotional eating, rather than lifestyle behavior, drives weight gain
in a prospective study in 1562 employees. J Occup Environ Med. 2011 Nov;53(11):1287-93. doi:
Geliebter A, Aversa A.Emotional eating in overweight, normal weight, and underweight individuals. Eat Behav. 2003
Macht M, Gerer J, Ellgring H. Emotions in overweight and normal-weight women immediately after eating foods differing in energy. Physiol Behav. 2003 Nov;80(2-3):367-74.
Cardi V, Corfield F, Leppanen J, Rhind C, Deriziotis S, Hadjimichalis A, et al. (2015) Emotional Processing, Recognition, Empathy and Evoked Facial Expression in Eating Disorders: An Experimental Study to Map Deficits in Social Cognition. PLoS ONE. 10(8): e0133827. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0133827
Minich D. 9 Surprising Relationships Between Food and Mood. Food Spirit. December 2, 2015. http://foodandspirit.com/food-and-mood/
Minich D. What Your Cravings Say About Your Emotions – AM Northwest TV
Show. June 9, 2009. Food Spirit. http://foodandspirit.com/what-your-cravings-say-about-your-emotions-am-northwest-tv-show/