Research shows that overeating during a vulnerable emotional state is a risk factor for eating disorders.
A study by the University of Salzburg, Austria, points out that eating also serves as a response to stress. The article was published last Wednesday (3), in the scientific journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.
Research shows that overeating during a vulnerable emotional state may alleviate negative emotions, but it is a risk factor for binge eating and other eating disorders, such as bulimia. “Even at a healthy BMI, emotional overeating can be a problem,” says Rebekka Schnepper, co-author of the article, in a note.
The study investigated the extent to which eating habits relate to our emotional state. For this, 80 students from the University of Salzburg were recruited, all with a body mass index considered average (neither too thin nor obese). The researchers selected only women because they are more prone to eating disorders.
Scientists compared “emotional eaters”, those who use food to regulate their negative emotions, with “restrictive eaters”, who control their meals through diets and calorie restriction.
During the experiment, stories were read to induce a neutral or negative emotional response in the volunteers. The negative scripts were related to recent events in the participants’ personal lives while the neutral scripts were linked to subjects such as brushing one’s teeth. The young women also saw images of appetizing food and objects.
Schnepper and the team of scientists found that emotional eaters had a stronger appetite response and found food more pleasant when they had negative emotions than when they felt neutral emotions. Restrictive eaters, on the other hand, seemed more attentive to food when experiencing negative emotions, although this did not influence their appetite, and there were no significant changes between negative and neutral emotional conditions.
The results point to possible strategies in the treatment of eating disorders. “When trying to improve eating behavior, a focus on emotion regulation strategies that do not rely on eating as a remedy for negative emotions seems promising,” says Schnepper.