Emotional eating can drive you to consume too many calories without satisfying your hunger or resolving painful feelings. Persistent sadness, a loss of interest in your usual activities or hobbies and compulsive eating may be signs of clinical depression. Using food to soothe anxiety or relieve stress can lead to weight gain if you're eating a lot of fatty or sugary foods. A mental health professional can help you identify the emotional triggers that drive you to overeat and address the reasons for your depression.
If you eat when you’re angry, anxious or depressed but not necessarily hungry, you may be turning to food to suppress your emotions rather than satisfy your appetite, the Mayo Clinic website notes. Feelings of sadness or hopelessness, frequent crying, sleep disturbances or persistent thoughts of suicide accompanied by episodes of compulsive eating could be signs of clinical depression, the Family Doctor website states. Consult your primary care doctor or a mental health professional if your depression has lasted for more than two weeks.
Eating in response to emotional triggers can lead to rapid weight gain, especially if you crave high-fat, high-calorie foods. Fatty, salty or sweet snacks may provide comfort when you’re faced with overwhelming feelings of depression. You may not be aware of the number of calories you’re consuming or the nutritional value of the foods you’re eating. If you are clinically depressed, you may find it difficult to care about the health consequences of emotional eating.
Carbohydrates and Depression
The craving for carbohydrate-rich foods such as chips or pastries may reflect low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that elevates your mood, note Drs. R. J. Wurtman and J.J. Wurtman in an article published in the November 1995 issue of Obesity Research. Eating foods that are high in carbohydrates may trigger a release of serotonin, which could lead to a cycle of overeating to relieve depression, the Wurtmans suggest. Antidepressant medications may correct your serotonin levels and help you manage the emotions that drive you to overeat.
Depression can cause you to lose interest in activities that you used to enjoy, such as social events, hobbies or exercise. Health goals, such as eating a balanced diet, losing weight or increasing your fitness level, that were once important to you may suddenly seem insignificant. Although regular physical exercise may help relieve the emotions that drive you to overeat, you may lack the energy or the desire to work out consistently. Reduced physical activity combined with emotional eating can contribute to weight gain.
If you're overeating as a form of self-medication for clinical depression, a mental health professional may recommend that you try antidepressants, counseling or a combination of both. Keeping track of your emotional eating through a food diary, checking for true hunger before you eat and forming a support group of friends and family members may help you avoid bingeing, the Mayo Clinic website advises. Stock your cupboards with low-calorie, high-fiber complex carbohydrates such as popcorn, whole-wheat cereal or fresh apples that will fill you up and help you steer clear of fattening snacks. Although you may not feel motivated to exercise, regular walks with friends could distract you from your food cravings, boost your energy and give you an outlet to express your emotions.