4 MIN READ | Mental Health

Natalia Kołkowska

Why You Overeat When You Feel Depressed

Cite This
Natalia Kołkowska, (2020, November 27). Why You Overeat When You Feel Depressed. Psychreg on Mental Health. https://www.psychreg.org/overeat-depressed/
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Without giving it too much thought, many people would associate sadness and prolonged low mood with the lack of appetite and weight loss. However, binge eating is actually a common coping mechanism among those feeling down or struggling with depression or anxiety and can even become potentially dangerous to one’s health and life.

If you’ve been having some serious problems, or you’ve been struggling with your mental health (which happens to more people these days than you might know), then the best way is to find the proper treatment – a psychological consultation, therapy, or even medical assistance and the right medications.

However, according to health experts from Primalharvest.com, sometimes it might be enough (or at least helpful) to understand what you’re dealing with. If you feel like you’ve been overeating whenever you feel depressed, here are the answers to why it’s happening and what you can do to stop.

Eating is a common coping mechanism

Most frequently, binge eating is purely psychological. When you feel sad, frustrated, or angry, you want to take your mind off things that trigger negative feelings. Food is widely considered to be a pleasure, a treat, especially if we’re talking about snacks, fast foods, or whatever it is that you love eating the most.

People use food to find comfort while in emotional distress, and they keep eating when the first few bites aren’t making things easier. If you are the one to seek relief in food, then before you realise you have overeaten again, you keep thinking about all those consumed calories, and you start to feel even worse. And voila, a vicious circle of overeating is created.

Binge eating may lead to other problems

However, if you tend to continue eating even when you’re not hungry or after you’re already full, you need to stay cautious, especially if you do it when you feel low. According to a study, feeling stressed and following a poor diet is actually a significant risk factor for depression. That’s why it’s so common for people with obesity who struggle with eating disorders to suffer from other mental health issues, too, most often depression and anxiety disorder. Especially when the binge eating sessions include lots of high-fat, low-nutrient types of food.

Apart from that, if you don’t get the proper treatment for your binge eating disorder, it will eventually result in significant weight gain, which is potentially dangerous to your overall health – your heart, joints, or spine.

It may be the other way around

When you overeat and feel depressed, the biggest challenge is to figure out whether you’re overeating as a coping mechanism because you feel bad about something, or you feel worse and worse mentally because you can’t stop yourself from consuming more food. The good news is that you can get efficient help in both cases and eventually go back to your normal, peaceful life.

In fact, people prone to anxiety disorder and depression are more likely to suffer from eating disorders as well; it’s because the same genes and brain chemicals are responsible for both.

What can you do to stop overeating?

The absolute best way of fighting binge eating is to find professional help. It is especially vital if you indeed suffer from mental health issues; untreated anxiety disorder or depression can lead to serious consequences that will significantly decrease your quality of life and may even result in suicidal thoughts. Consult with your primary care doctor – they usually don’t have experience in treating such issues but are able to refer you further – to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical worker.

A therapist will be able to determine the primary cause of your condition; whether overeating is a coping mechanism for depression or depression is the result of overeating. Then, together, you will prepare a plan for you to improve.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy is the most effective treatment for both overeating and depression. Your therapist will help you find the roots of your problems and identify toxic behaviour patterns; only then can you truly deal with them. Therapy will allow you to not only improve your mood here and now but also to manage these negative feelings later in order to avoid a relapse. You will work on your self-image, general perfect body image, and self-worth issues, which will help you regain control over your eating habits and feelings management.

Sometimes, to complement therapy sessions, your treatment may require medical assistance or taking depression medications, but it is for your therapist to decide.

Take care of yourself

Once you start therapy, you will also need to start making changes in your lifestyle; your therapist will surely discuss all that with you. These will require you to follow the right diet, avoid temptations, and change all your eating habits to make sure they are all healthy in terms of the types and amounts of consumed food.

The most important thing is how you are feeling, so try not to make things worse. Medical treatment will allow you to start looking at yourself differently, but it will also be highly beneficial to reduce stress and avoid situations that make you too emotional, as it might all trigger binge eating.

Of course, it is impossible to eliminate all stress factors, but taking care of yourself (and learning to let go and forgive yourself) will surely make it easier for you to deal with depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder.

Moreover, there aren’t enough words to convey the importance and benefits of physical activity. Regular exercise will improve your physical condition, the state of your heart, joints, and other parts of your body previously affected by poor diet. Additionally, it will make you feel better about your body and mind, as staying active helps our bodies to produce more happy hormones.

You deserve to feel better

Whether you are sure that your stress eating is still within your control or you’re afraid of your overeating proneness, it is essential to listen to your body and mind and get the necessary help. Eating disorders are not to be ignored, especially if they are accompanied by other issues.

It is definitely better to be safe than sorry. Both weight gain and loss, as well as the lack of essential nutrients, can be dangerous to your health, so it’s best not to wait until your problem gets out of control.

Mental health is too often neglected; people think they need to brace up, control their emotions, and put on a brave face at all times. Please, don’t believe that! If you feel depressed, unmotivated, burnt out, or simply too tired, look for support. The right meds, a good therapist, or even some time off, can truly change your life. 


Natalia Kołkowska is a mental health advocate. 


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