Stressed Out – Eating Disorders And Stress

People commonly misperceive that individuals with eating disorders are “vain” or that eating disorders are all about wanting to look thin like models in the magazines. However, the reality is that eating disorders are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. — Jennifer Rollin MSW, LCSW-C

Stress and Anorexia Nervosa




Stress has been proven to be a huge factor in eating disorders — anorexia being the most common. Not only can an increase in stress cause anorexia nervosa, but patients with anorexia are much more susceptible to stress than individuals who don’t. A lot of individuals with anorexia use it as some kind of coping mechanism, making their coping skills inefficient. In addition, having anorexia causes patients to internalize their feelings, have unrealistic standards for themselves, and have issues in dealing with unexpected emotions or life events. All of these factors make individuals with anorexia nervosa much more vulnerable to stress, only worsening their unhealthy condition.

Studies have shown that the presence of stress in an anorexia patient’s life could have been the cause of it, or at least made the individual’s recovery and coping much more difficult. Having an eating disorder like anorexia is extremely straining on a patient’s physical and emotional state, causing an immense amount of unnecessary stress. Anorexia nervosa often causes individuals to have high standards and requirements for themselves that are just not realistic or attainable. These standards raise higher and higher as time goes on. There’s such a strong fixation on their appearance that they can never be satisfied.


Stress, Bulimia, and Binge Eating




Binging is a large component in bulimia and binge eating disorder. Stress is one of the primary causes that lead those with unhealthy eating practices to go into a binging episode. Food is often used as a coping mechanism, especially for those who are susceptible to eating disorders, such as people with mental illnesses or who have had eating disorders in their family history.

Like anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating involves stress in a vicious cycle. Food is used as a coping mechanism to deal with whatever stressful situation is present. But after the binging episode, there is much more stress than before.

Many people who don’t “look like they have an eating disorder” based on their weight, gender, or skin color are not identified as having an eating disorder by medical professionals. — Alexis Conason Psy.D.

Bulimia is similar to anorexia in a way that there is an immense amount of stress involved in having an eating disorder that causes a fixation on one’s appearance. Binge eating causes a lot of stress, especially in bulimia. After a binging episode, those with bulimia typically begin to obsess over the fact that they could gain weight. They convince themselves that they must purge to try and uphold the standards they have for their weight and appearance.

Binge eating disorder is similar in that patients tend to eat unnecessary amounts of food to cope with stressful events and situations, often followed by worrying about weight gain. Binging episodes cause a lot of guilt, creating more stress than before the episode took place in an attempt to deal with stress.


Preventing Stress: How to Avoid Overeating




An important first step involves trying to alter your eating habits. If you don’t feel as though you will be able to change them on your own, don’t be afraid to seek help. Consider talking to a trusted loved one that you’re comfortable with and will listen without judgment. If you think your situation is fairly severe, strongly consider speaking to some kind of a health professional. There are several options including treatment centers, therapy, medication, nutritional counseling, and other opportunities that you can also consider.

Sometimes attitudes and behaviors emerge in response to the overwhelming despair and hopelessness that accompanies watching a loved one starving herself/himself. — Judy Scheel Ph.D., L.C.S.W., CEDS

As for dealing with binge eating without enlisting the help of professionals, here are some tips to help overcome binging:

  • keep a food journal to track what you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat
  • exercise regularly, especially when you feel the need to binge
  • change your diet by replacing high-fat binge foods with healthier foods
  • have a friend that you trust to help you track your recovery

Overall, therapy is always a good idea. Most likely, there is some kind of unhealthy connection or relationship with food that should be changed. Counseling can really help change your feelings towards eating and can improve how you view food.