Emotional Eating (cont.)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

What is the difference between emotional eating and binge eating?

The primary difference between emotional eating and binge eating involves the amount of food that is consumed. While both may involve a sense of trouble controlling a craving for food, emotional eating may involve consuming from moderate to great amounts of food and may be the only symptom that a person has or be part of an emotional illness like depression, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. Binge eating disorder is a distinctive mental illness that is characterized by recurrent episodes of compulsive overeating, in that affected people eat an amount of food that is significantly larger than that which most people eat in a distinct period of time.

What are causes, triggers, or risk factors for emotional eating?

Like most emotional symptoms, emotional eating is thought to be the result of a number of factors rather than one single cause. Some research is consistent with girls and women being at higher risk of for eating disorders, showing they are at higher risk for emotional eating. However, other research indicates that in some populations, men are more likely to eat in response to depression or anger, and women were more likely to eat excessively in response to failing a diet.

It is thought that the increase in the hormone cortisol that is one of the body's responses to stress is similar to the medication prednisone in its effects. Specifically, both tend to trigger the body's stress (fight or flight) response, including increased heart and breathing rate, blood flow to muscles, and visual acuity. Part of the stress response often includes increased appetite to supply the body with the fuel it needs to fight or flee, resulting in cravings for so-called comfort foods. People who have been subjected to chronic rather than momentary stress (like job, school, or family stress, exposure to crime or abuse) are at risk for having chronically high levels of cortisol in their bodies, contributing to developing chronic emotional-eating patterns.

Psychologically, people who tend to connect food with comfort, power, or for any other reasons than providing fuel to their body can be prone to emotional eating. They may eat to fill an emotional void, when physically full, and engage in mindless eating. Some people whose emotions cause them to eat may have been raised to connect food with feelings instead of sustenance, particularly if food was scarce or often used a reward or punishment, or as a substitute for emotional intimacy.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/11/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Emotional Eating - Describe Your Experience Question: Please describe your experience with emotional eating.
Emotional Eating - Signs and Symptoms Question: What signs or symptoms did you experience with emotional eating?
Emotional Eating - Treatment Question: What treatment was effective for your emotional eating?