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The Science of Emotional Eating and Food Addiction

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

emotional eating food addiction

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  • Physically, emotional eating can lead to obesity and related health problems; psychologically, it may delay or prevent you from addressing your emotions and stress
  • Three hormones that play important roles in emotional eating and food addiction are dopamine, cortisol and serotonin
  • The stress hormone cortisol not only regulates your fight-flight-or-freeze response, but it also regulates your body’s use of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. This is why stress can trigger the compulsion to reach for junk food
  • Emotional eating is primarily triggered by stress and boredom. Research shows calorie-dense foods trigger fat accumulation that inhibits your primary stress response system
  • Research also shows people reach for comfort foods when they feel isolated, because the food in question reminds them of a strong emotional relationship they once had

Emotional eating and food addiction are very real problems, and the former can easily lead to the latter. While emotional eating is a universal phenomenon and won’t do any significant harm in the short term, if you find yourself reaching for comfort foods on a regular basis, it can lead to significant problems, both physical and psychological.

Physically, emotional eating can lead to obesity and related health problems, and psychologically, it may delay or prevent you from addressing your true emotions and sources of stress. As clinical psychologist Susan Albers told Huffington Post, “ … [E]ating to avoid facing feelings is like putting a ‘Band-Aid on a broken arm.’”


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