Study Finds Toll of Emotional Eating on Women’s Health

POSTED BY Scott | Oct, 11, 2014 |
Woman Eating

What is emotional eating?

From a medical perspective, emotional eating has been described as “eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness.” [Source: Mayo Clinic.]

We all have natural stressors that can cause us to suddenly need to eat. The triggers that lead to emotional eating often are some of the same life issues that trigger stress, including:

  • Finances
  • Job pressures or job loss
  • Medical issues
  • Divorce or relationship issues
  • Lack of sleep

Whether it is a life trigger or another emotional stress that leads you to overeating, the outcome is often weight gain. Weight gain can, in turn, lead to feelings of guilt over that weight gain as well as other health issues. An unhealthy cycle can develop as an outcome of emotional eating. When your emotions trigger you to overeat, feelings of guilt can arise as a result of the weight gain. This can lead you to feel badly about the gain, which in turn can cause you to overeat again.

Combine this unhealthy cycle with the emotional eating component of consuming foods that are energy dense (foods with high concentrations of calories per bite) and the end results can feel difficult to overcome, particularly because energy-dense snack foods seem to be what many crave to feed their emotional hunger.

Gender and depression can be a factor in emotional eating

According to a recent study conducted by the American Society for Nutrition, depression, particularly among women, is also a major source of emotional eating. The abstract below details the conclusions found in the study conducted in the Spring of 2014 [Source: PubMed]:


In recent years, emotional eating (EmE) has incited substantial research interest as an important psychologic determinant of food intake and overweight. However, little is known about factors that might modulate its relations with dietary habits. The objective of this study was to examine the association between EmE and consumption of energy-dense snack food and assess the 2-way interaction of EmE with sex and depressive symptoms. A total of 7378 men and 22,862 women from the NutriNet-Santé cohort (France, 2009-2013) who completed ≥6 self-reported 24-h food records were included in this cross-sectional analysis. EmE was evaluated via the revised 21-item Three-Factor Eating Questionnaire. Depressive symptoms were assessed by the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. The associations between EmE and energy-dense food consumption were assessed by multivariable logistic and linear regression models adjusted for sociodemographic and lifestyle factors. Higher EmE was associated with higher consumption of energy-dense snacks and, in particular, with consumption of sweet-and-fatty foods across most categories studied. However, these associations were stronger in women with depressive symptoms (e.g., high consumption of chocolate, OR: 1.77, 95% CI: 1.43, 2.20; cakes/biscuits/pastries, OR: 1.81, 95% CI: 1.45, 2.26) compared with those without depressive symptoms (e.g., high consumption of chocolate, OR: 1.52, 95% CI: 1.36, 1.69; cakes/biscuits/pastries, OR: 1.44, 95% CI: 1.29, 1.61). In contrast, the significant positive associations observed in men without depressive symptoms (e.g., high consumption of chocolate, OR: 1.33, 95% CI: 1.16, 1.52; cakes/biscuits/pastries, OR: 1.28, 95% CI: 1.11, 1.48) were not found in men with depressive symptoms. In conclusion, in women, EmE was positively associated with consumption of energy-dense snack food, particularly in those with depressive symptoms. For men, the relation between EmE and energy-dense snack foods was found only in those without depressive symptoms. These findings call for consideration of the psychologic state when targeting unhealthy dietary habits, especially in women. This trial was registered at as 2013-000929-31.
© 2014 American Society for Nutrition.

Find Help with Emotional Eating

Emotional eating leads many to feel badly about themselves, which can have a negative affect on any motivation to change the behavior. And once discouraged, many continue the cycle.

At Pound Melters we developed a comprehensive program to help women and men change dietary and activity behavior that leads to weight loss. Supervised by physicians and nurse practitioners, Pound Melters clients are also prescribed medications to reduce appetite and hunger.

We can help you stop emotional eating. Find a Pound Melters medical weight loss clinic near you in Concord, Rohnert Park, San Rafael, and Vacaville CA.