When you’re feeling down, you may find yourself reaching for foods and eating much more than you normally do, sometimes even if you’re not hungry. Many people who experience depression tend to react this way. Eating is seen as a way of coping with feelings of unhappiness and low self-esteem.
Using food as a comfort, people who experience depression often eat to self-medicate. They do this to improve or suppress negative or uncomfortable feelings – I have personally done this many times!
Why Do Depressed People Turn to Food?
Depressed people have the tendency to eat as a response to stress. The foods they often eat are high-carbohydrate, high calorie foods with low nutritional value. Many people crave carbs or sweets, such as ice cream and cake when they’re depressed.
One reason is because foods high in carbohydrates and sugar increase levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that makes you feel good. However, eating these types of foods uplifts your mood only in the short term.
Another reason why people who have a depressed state turn to food is because it is very accessible. When you’re depressed and lacking energy, you don’t feel like doing anything. The easiest (but unhealthy) way is to grab what’s in the fridge.
Also, shopping for and preparing healthy meals can seem daunting when you’re lacking energy. You may tend to reach for foods that are ready to eat but aren’t particularly nutritious. I have been guilty of this many times.
Binge Eating – What is it?
Depressive states can cause high levels of impulsivity. They do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, like opening a big block of chocolate and finish it in one sitting.
Eating a large amount of food in a short period and feeling uncontrollable when eating is referred to as binge eating. You eat even when you’re not hungry, or already full. Despite feeling sick to your stomach, you can’t stop.
Binge eating is often accompanied by feelings of loss of control and psychological distress. Not surprisingly, weight problems and physical and psychological health problems commonly result from binge eating.
Eating can be comforting for a short moment, but then reality sets back in, along with guilt. Binge eating often leads to weight gain and obesity, which only worsens compulsive eating. The worse you feel about yourself, the more you use food to cope.
It’s not clear what causes binge eating, however, certain things can increase risk of developing problems with bingeing. These include:
- Low self-esteem and low confidence
- Depression or anxiety
- Stress, anger, boredom or loneliness
- Dissatisfaction and high pressure
- Family history of eating disorders
- Differences in the brain or level or hormones produced by the brain
A Vicious Cycle
When someone is depressed and eats, it can be challenging to know if one condition causes the other. If you eat a lot, you might also feel depressed about your food habits. It can be a vicious cycle.
Binge eaters may gain weight. Weight gain can lead to obesity, which then raises risk for health problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gallbladder disease, heart disease, and certain cancers. When you gain weight as well as suffer from other health conditions from binge eating, it can cause depression.
How to Treat Depressive States without Relying on Foods
Experts on eating disorders believe emotional eating is best treated by traditional eating-disorder approaches such as improving self-esteem and treating underlying psychological problems. Here are some ways you can do to fight depressive states without resorting to eating.
Talk to Someone
Talking is a way to express your feelings. Figure out why you’re feeling depressed. Talk about it with a caring friend. Don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it. Connecting with your friends and family helps enhance well-being. Talking to a caring and non-judgemental health professional can do wonders.
Although exercise is the last thing you want to do, it is one of the best ways to go from a depressive to happy state of mind. It releases feel-good brain chemicals including neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids. It also reduces immune system chemicals that worsen depression. Aside from these, exercise can help you get in shape and gain confidence.
Try Relaxation Exercises
Relaxation exercises such as meditation and yoga have been shown to decrease stress and anxiety, which can contribute to depression. These mind-body techniques can promote feelings of joy and well-being. Studies show that these techniques can stimulate endorphin secretion, increase relaxation, and aid in boosting mood.
Change your posture to more upright and open – even better move your body and breathe deeply!!
Social Psychologist, Amy Cuddy says: “Two minutes led to these hormonal changes that configure your brain to basically be either assertive, confident, and comfortable, or really stress-reactive and feeling kind of shut down.” Your posture can make you feel crappy or awesome!!
In Amy Cuddy’s study – just two minutes of assuming the posture of a powerful person resulted in a bio-chemical shift toward being a more powerful person. And, of course, assuming the power of a low-power person resulted in the opposite effect.
Always remember that food isn’t the only way to cope with depression. While eating makes you feel good, it only provides comfort in the short term and depressive states will eventually come back. Plus you don’t want to gain weight. If you want to conquer depressive states, try the suggestions above. It may be easier said than done but once you do these, it’ll be worth it and you’ll thank yourself that you did.
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