The Burden of Stress and Binge Eating


Our friends at The Highlands Treatment Center have penned an excellent post on stress and BED.  If you are interested in reaching them for support or further questions, please follow the second link in this article.

The Burden of Stress and Binge Eating

Coping with stress is extremely important for those who struggle with any binge disorder. Binge eating is an example of coping with stress, though one that forces individuals to cycle back and forth between overeating to feel better, and feeling worse because of the binge eating.

Recently, a public survey was released called The Burden of Stress in America. From March 5th to April 8th of this year, 2,505 respondents discussed the stress in their lives. Cooperatively sponsored by the Harvard School of Public Health, National Public Radio and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, this survey looked at the causes, personal perceptions, and the primary ways those surveyed use to cope with stress.

Coping With Stress in America

According to this new snapshot survey, there are nine primary ways that respondents in the survey were responding to stress:

  • Sleeping less than usual (70%)
  • Eating less than usual (44%)
  • Exercising or playing sports less than usual (43%)
  • Attending religious services or praying more than usual (41%)
  • Sleeping more than usual (41%)
  • Eating more than usual (39%)
  • Watching TV or playing video games more than usual (33%)
  • Using social media less than usual (28%)
  • Exercising or playing sports more than usual (26%)

Many respondents replied in that they cope with stress in a combination of ways, such as sleeping less and eating more, or even with three or more coping mechanisms. None of these responses are particularly problematic, as long as the stress response and coping activities are of fairly short duration. However, when any of these coping mechanisms for stress become perpetually sustained and intense, the behaviors themselves begin to cause even more stress. Binge eating as a way to cope is an excellent example of a coping mechanism gone awry.

Stress and Binge Eating

Studies show that many people with binge eating disorder have trouble with stress related to difficulty managing emotions. These emotions can range from anxiety, depression, sadness, boredom, anger or worry. Add this to the (often unknown) underlying issues that create painful feelings, it is easy to see how those with binge eating disorder struggle that much more with stress. Many people with binge eating disorder self-report increased psychosocial stressors, such as lack of social support, relationship issues, problems with sexuality, and financial issues. The National Institute on Mental Health reports that over a lifetime, 2.8% of Americans will have binge eating disorder.

Stress, both positive and negative, causes changes in particular hormones in the body of all individuals, not just those with binge eating disorder. One, cortisol, has been shown to increase feelings of hunger, particularly for foods that are higher in fat and sugar. This very easily translates in the American diet to “comfort foods”.

Binge eating disorder is a cycle of eating to feel better, then feeling stress due to the bingeing, which leads to again using food as an emotional release. Chronic stress only enforces this cycle. Recovery from binge eating disorder means learning healthy, positive ways to cope with stress. These strategies are practiced and strengthened during the professional treatment process. Above all, these new ways of coping must be learned in an environment of acceptance and non-judgment.

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