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Coping with Depression and Overeating

Overview

Recent research has found a strong correlation between depression and overeating, particularly when overeating becomes binge eating. Keep reading to learn more.

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The link

Is there a link between depression and overeating?

A 2012 study has shown why both stress and eating poorly are linked to an increased risk for anxiety and depression. The effects of a high-fat diet overlap with the effects of chronic stress that are known to play a hand in causing depression. This may explain why overeating — particularly the high-fat, low-nutrient foods people are more prone to binge eat — can lead to depression.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people with obesity who have binge eating disorders typically struggle with some sort of mental health illness, including anxiety or depression.

Both conditions have the ability to cause the other: If overeating leads to weight gain and an inability to control binge eating, depression may follow. Depression itself may also trigger overeating as a coping mechanism.

Learn more about causes and risk factors for eating disorders »

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Symptoms

Symptoms of depressive overeating

One of the biggest symptoms of depressive overeating is to compulsively eat more than you need to while never quite feeling satisfied. This is especially true if you’re eating for emotional relief, as opposed to eating because you’re hungry.

Symptoms of a chronic overeating problem include:

  • having difficulty to stop eating
  • repeatedly and quickly eating large amounts of food
  • eating even when you’re full
  • never feeling satisfied
  • feeling numb, emotionally distanced, or apathetic while eating
  • feeling guilty, depressed, or disgusted after overeating

Read more: The best eating disorder blogs of the year »

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How to stop

How do you stop depressive overeating?

Both depression and overeating can be treated, even when they occur together. The first line of treatment will be to seek therapy. Your therapist will be able to help you determine the causes of both the overeating and the depression, and create a plan for how you can manage both.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be helpful for both depression and overeating. According to the Sheppard Pratt Treatment Center, it’s the most evidence-based treatment for adults with eating disorders. During CBT, you and your therapist will search for what causes or triggers led to the depression and overeating, and try to find a solution for both immediate treatment and long-term management.

Your therapist may look for weight-control behaviors, such as:

  • dietary constraint, which can lead to binge eating
  • purging behaviors
  • body avoidance, in which you avoid looking at your body

The beginning of treatment will focus on getting overeating habits under control and finding methods to manage symptoms of depression.

The cognitive side of the therapy will focus on:

  • negative body image
  • overevaluation of weight
  • issues with self-worth
  • perfectionism

You’ll learn coping mechanisms to improve your body image, which can in turn improve depression and reduce overeating tendencies.

Your therapist or doctor may prescribe you depression medications, which can sometimes help both conditions at once.

To treat depression and overeating, you can also make a few lifestyle changes. Your therapist or doctor may go over these with you. They include:

  • Reducing stress: Stress can trigger overeating and it can trigger depression, so it can make both conditions worse.
  • Exercise regularly: Exercising can help you feel better about your body, reduce stress, and help alleviate depression.
  • Avoid temptation: If you know that you’re prone to binging after a long day, don’t keep any bad-for-you foods lying around. By making them less accessible, you can reduce overeating and focus on other coping and stress management techniques.
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