Attempting to Control Emotions through Diet

Attempting to Control Emotions through DietNearly all eating disorders have their roots in emotional pain or other psychological issues. Rather than seeking treatment to address the underlying causes of the emotional pain, some people will seek to control their emotions through food, diet and disordered eating. This can lead to serious negative consequences, especially in the realm of health, and may contribute to malnutrition or other issues that may lead to an early death.

Anorexia and Bulimia

Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa both typically develop in response to poor body image and dissatisfaction with one’s appearance. The conditions are much more prevalent among girls than among boys, but males do suffer from anorexia and bulimia as well. Anorexia and bulimia are most likely attempts to control emotions indirectly by controlling the issues at the heart of the negative emotions. In other words, anorexics and bulimics typically perceive themselves to have a different body image than they actually do and can never reach a point at which they feel comfortable with their body. This perception causes a great deal of emotional stress and depression, and sufferers become obsessed with losing weight.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is another form of disordered eating that may be triggered by emotional pain. However, in contrast to anorexia and bulimia, people with binge eating disorder habitually eat copious amounts of food at one sitting, often on a regular basis.

In most cases, it is probable that binge eaters are using food to self-medicate their emotional pain in the same way that drug addicts use drugs. After all, eating certain foods triggers the release of dopamine in the brain in exactly the same way as using drugs. Dopamine is the chemical neurotransmitter that is released in the brain in response to pleasurable experiences like eating a good meal or having sex. People who are in emotional pain often seek relief by engaging in activities that release dopamine, which is why emotional pain so often contributes to drug abuse and addiction. Binge eating is essentially exactly the same thing. A person suffering from emotional pain finds relief in food, and self-medicating by binge eating can become a habit that the person will indulge in whenever he or she feels stressed or in pain. Binge eating can also reach the level of addiction in exactly the same way as drug use. Continually relying on food to artificially raise dopamine levels will cause the brain to reduce production of dopamine on its own. When food quantities are inadequate to artificially raise dopamine levels, the levels of the neurotransmitter in the brain will plummet, triggering depression. At this point, the binge eater will find that he or she needs larger amounts of food simply to avoid becoming seriously depressed.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

Treatment for eating disorders often consists of proven methods of psychotherapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). In therapy, the patient and therapist together will identify and address the underlying emotional and psychological causes of the disordered eating. Therapy will also address any related issues such as drug abuse or addiction. Finally, treatment for disordered eating also often includes dietary counseling to help the patient develop healthier eating habits.

If you would like help finding treatment for an eating disorder or if you have any other questions, please call our toll-free 24 hour helpline today to speak with an admissions coordinator.