29 Jan Why do we overeat when we’re in a bad mood?

Emotional distress is a known factor that promotes overeating. Sadness, anger, stress, all too often they translate into scattered chocolate wraps and empty ice-cream buckets. But why do we do this? Why do we seek out high-energy foods that taste good whenever we’re under mental distress?

There are loads of reasons why we do this, Biological, Psychological and Social triggers that lead us to overconsume calories for comfort. We’ll be focusing on a very important Biological process, the brain’s reward mechanism. The reason is simple, it applies to everyone. We don’t all have the same Psychological and Social backgrounds, yet we all have similar Biological reward mechanisms in our brains.

The Reward Mechanism

We could go into a lot of depth about the brain’s reward mechanism, but honestly, it’s just an endless list of fancy names and chemical compounds, so I’ll skip to the important part.

Foods that taste good trigger the reward mechanism. The reward mechanism is a complicated systm in our brains, which serves a very simple purpose… to make us temporarily happy!

Its activation is linked, among other things, to tasty food, sex and drugs, so you get the picture.

When you eat, the reward system is activated, making you feel joy and pleasure. If you eat something that you really like, like chocolate, it produces hormones, which increase the feelings of joy and pleasure. All the problems, all the negative emotions seemingly disappear. This is one of the main reasons we get the tendency to overeat when we’re angry, stressed or sad. It’s not the only reason, but it’s a pretty important one…

In reality, all these negative emotions don’t just go away, they’re temporarily swept under the rug by the effects of the reward system hormones, only to come back a few hours later, once their effects wears out. What’s worse, the act of overeating can cause further mental distress through regret.

Fat and refined sugars make food more palatable. I’ve never heard of someone “crying with a bucket of broccoli in their arms”

How can you avoid overeating when you’re feeling down?

If you’ve read this far, you already have a good idea on why we have this tendency as a species.

After that, you need to consciously resist the urge. This is likely the hardest step. There’s no easy way around it. When you’re standing in front of that slice of chocolate cake, only you have the power and the control to say no.

But it doesn’t stop there. You can’t keep resisting forever, at some point you’ll slip and that’s absolutely normal. In order to escape this pattern, you need to find the root of the problem. You need to find what’s causing you to have these emotions that push you towards overeating.

Finally, the most important step is to face the problem head-on. It’s not always easy, and it’s not something you can do in a day, but finding and removing the cause of all the negative emotions is the best way to improve your eating patterns you’re your relationship with food.