In our modern society, stress has become a pervasive and concerning issue that affects individuals from all walks of life. Interestingly, the correlation between increased stress levels and the development of eating disorders is gaining recognition. The relentless pressure to meet societal expectations, coupled with personal challenges, can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and body image. This article delves into the intricate connection between stress and eating disorders, exploring how stressors can trigger disordered eating patterns and harmful behaviours. By understanding this complex relationship, we can better comprehend the risks, signs, and potential interventions necessary to support individuals struggling with both stress and eating disorders. (Also read: Eating disorders in children: Types, causes, treatment, preventive tips )
Understanding the link between stress and eating disorder:
“Stress is frequently a crucial factor in the development of eating disorders- psychological problems marked by significant and ongoing disturbances in eating behaviours and disturbing thoughts and emotions. They can be extremely severe and impact social, psychological, and physical function. Everyone goes through stressful times. The body responds to change naturally,” says, Aman Puri, Fitness Nutrition Specialist and Founder, Steadfast Nutrition.
He added, “In most circumstances, stress subsides quickly, and the individual can go about his or her daily activities without experiencing any substantial physical, emotional, or psychological changes. However, some people develop behavioural and mental health disorders, such as disordered eating, as a result of persistent stress. Elevated levels of stress hormones are also more likely to occur in people who have eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and may even result in anorexia brought on by stress. How a person copes with stress plays a role in the link between stress and disordered eating.”
Aman further shared with HT Lifestyle, an active or avoidance approach that people can use for coping:
- Active coping: A healthy coping reaction is when an individual attempts to discover useful or active ways to relieve stress. When someone is actively coping, they are aware of their stressor and find solutions to lessen undesirable results.
- Avoidance coping: Maladaptive avoidance coping involves engaging in negative or damaging behaviours to avoid confronting the source of one’s stress. An avoidance coping strategy may put a person at risk for disordered eating.
Talking about how stress makes you eat, Aman says, “During stressful times, your body produces more cortisol, a hormone that promotes hunger. If you have a binge eating disorder, your body already produces more of this hormone than healthy people. Do you feel better after eating sweets or carbohydrates? There’s a reason for this: Eating these foods signals your brain to release the mood-enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin. For this reason, cakes, cookies, and french fries are sometimes referred to as “comfort foods”. However, the soothing effects only last a short time. Your blood sugar will plummet (or “crash”) shortly after consuming these goodies, leaving you exhausted and unsteady.”