Are anxiety and binge eating related? Yes, absolutely.
Our emotions are closely tied to eating, meals, and food choices. We all use food to an extent to influence how we feel. We choose heavy protein and carbohydrate foods after a workout when we feel exhausted; coffee in the morning when we feel sluggish; and desserts when we feel like celebrating or relieving stress. One of the emotions that strongly influences disordered eating is anxiety. We often eat more when we are anxious as a means of relieving stress.
The main difference between someone with anxiety related overeating and a true eating disorder is the extent to which food is overconsumed and the pattern of consumption. Someone with stress or anxiety related eating might occasionally eat an extra serving of icecream when they know they shouldn’t. However, someone with binge eating disorder (BED) in contrast, may eat several pints of icecream in one sitting. They may also do so in a worrisome pattern, oftentimes secretly away from others and then make attempts to hide the evidence. Individuals with BED describe difficulty stopping themselves from overeating. It’s a compulsion that they cannot control.
Each time the overeating happens it’s called a binge eating episode.Binge Eating Disorder is technically defined as episodes of binge eating at least once a week for three months, however this should be considered more of a guideline than a strict requirement for diagnosis, and should certainly not influence an individual to defer treatment until it is too late.
Research suggests that binge eating is how some people cope with anxiety. (1) It is important to address anxiety and stress management as part of the treatment for individuals with BED.
Binge eating is estimated to affect 1.5% of women and 0.3% of men worldwide. In the U.S., up to 23% of those affected by binge eating had attempted suicide.
Many binge eaters had mental health symptoms their entire life: 70% were affected by mood disorders, 68% by substance abuse, 59% by anxiety disorders, 49% by borderline personality disorder, and 32% by post-traumatic stress disorder. The risk for having a binge eating disorder is increased by deprivation, violence, trauma, various minority statuses, and major mental illness. (3)
Another study found that 37% of those who have binge eating disorder also have anxiety during their lifetime. (1) Anxiety disorders are the second most common psychological disorder seen in those with binge eating disorder who also are morbidly obese. (1)
In Mumbai, researchers of one study of 2000 English-speaking adolescent females reported higher binge eating behavior than males. Fifty percent of those surveyed reported moderate binge eating while 36.8% reported severe binge eating. Those who binged tended to have irregular menstrual periods and were overweight or obese.(4)
Research also shows that anxious individuals are more predisposed to the development of binge eating. Healthy coping skills for anxiety, including exercise, mediation, and other healthy habits may be effective in reducing anxiety that then profligates cycles of binge eating. (5)
If you are concerned about your own eating or the eating of others in your life, the first step is to identify if certain emotions are causing you to overeat or even take on binge eating behaviors. Ask yourself these questions:
This questionnaire can help you determine what emotions are driving you toward unhealthy eating. If you have concerns, reach out to friends, loved ones, or professionals for help and support. Our team at Within Health is here to support you every step of the way.