Major life events ? such as unemployment, health problems, divorce and a shortage of emotional support ? and daily-life hassles ? such as a difficult commute to work, bad weather, and changes in your normal routine ? are both thought to trigger emotional eating. But why do negative emotions lead to overeating?
A physiologic connection
How your body reacts to mood and food may play a role. Research indicates that some foods might have seemingly addictive qualities for many people. When you eat palatable foods, such as chocolate, your body releases trace amounts of mood- and satisfaction-elevating opiates. That "reward" may reinforce a preference for foods that are most closely associated with specific feelings.
Scientists are also studying the possibility that sweet and fatty foods might actually relieve your anxiety. Preliminary research in animals indicates that during a stressful event, the adrenal gland increases production of stress hormones, including those known as glucocorticoids. When they're present at high-enough concentrations, glucocorticoids help restore calm by shutting down the stress-response system. But when stress is chronic, the system keeps moving. The stress hormones maintain the stress response, which encourages the formation of fat cells, and steers you in the direction of the unhealthy favorites you think you need to restore your emotional state.
A psychologic connection
From a mental standpoint, food also can be a distraction. If you're worried about an upcoming event, or rethinking a conflict from earlier in the day, eating comfort foods may distract you. But the distraction is only temporary. While you're eating, your thoughts may be focused on the pleasant taste of your comfort food. Unfortunately, when you're done overeating, your attention returns to your worries, and you may now bear the additional burden of feeling guilt about overeating.
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