is stress eating an eating disorder

Is stress eating considered an eating disorder?

December 28. 2021

What comforts a crying baby besides a mother’s touch? It’s milk. As children, we were given rewards for being good, such as lollies and chocolate. Growing up, we started to connect food with positive emotions such as feeling happy, safe, loved, comforted.

So anytime we feel sad, angry, stressed, and disappointed, we turn to food. By ingesting food we have had in joyous times, our brain remembers how we felt during those times, and suddenly we feel better. So we can say that emotional eating is, in fact, comfort eating. Comfort eating is a slippery slope because food should nourish your body and not be a way to hide emotions, whether they are positive or negative ones. 

For some, comfort eating is a rare occasion, like after a break-up. It’s more regular for others, for example, after a stressful day at work. It might seem harmless, but when you think about it, we experience stress every single day. So that makes us wonder, is it possible for stress eating to turn into an eating disorder?

How does stress make you eat?

You might want to know what happens in your body when you have a stressful day.

But you don’t reach for a proper meal or vegetables or something healthy, do you? You crave carbs and sweets. There’s a reason you reach for these foods and why they are called comfort foods. When digesting these foods, your brain releases serotonin, a chemical that boosts your mood. Once the emotion strikes, your brain makes more of the hormone cortisol, which increases hunger. But the problem is that the period of comfort doesn’t last long. Your blood sugar crashes after a certain time, and you start to feel tired and shaky.

So either you’ll stop the intake of comfort foods, or you’ll end up in a vicious circle. That is what turns stress eating into an eating disorder.

Stress Eating vs Binge Eating

Emotional eating is a consequence of strong, negative emotions, such as anger, fear, stress, boredom, loneliness, sadness. What triggers these emotions are health problems, relationship differences, work.

It is pretty simple to understand what emotional eating means; it is just what it sounds like – using food to regulate emotions. Connecting your emotions to food is normal because we connect food to many life moments. Spending time with your friends, family, and partners often involves food on your plates. As food can temporarily help distract us, there’s nothing wrong with eating when feeling strong emotions – until it evolves into the primary way you cope with your feelings or avoid them.

We are all so exposed to stress daily and so often that we can identify emotional eating with stress eating. Though some people eat less when facing stress, most turn to impulsive eating.

The cycle goes like this. You feel stressed, and you eat a lot. After you overeat, you feel guilty and worried about your weight, which makes you even more stressed, so you eat again. Looking at this cycle, we can say that stress eating is overeating.

But, binge eating is not “just” overeating; it’s much bigger than that. Binge eating is defined as eating a significantly larger amount of food than most people would eat in the same period of time. During this process, a person feels out of control and can’t stop eating. For many people, binge eating is a way to disconnect from thoughts and feelings. While eating, people only think about how much they can eat instead of their emotions.

After binge eating, a person feels disgusted, ashamed, and guilty, unlike after emotional eating.

Other characteristics of binge eating are:

  • Eating larger amounts of food at least twice a week
  • Continuing to eat past the point of feeling full
  • Inability to control how much you consume
  • Rapid food consumption

So, to sum up, stress eating is not considered an eating disorder. It is a characteristic of disordered eating, leading to binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa.

You can say bulimia nervosa is similar to binge eating, but what sets it apart is:

  • Eating larger amounts of food followed by episodes of purging
  • Self-induced vomiting, laxative, or diuretic use or the use of diet pills
  • Feeling disgust, shame, and guilt

What to do to help you cope with emotional eating

Stress eating, especially when it turns into a disorder, is a factor that contributes to obesity. You can take steps to regain control of your eating habits and get started with your weight loss journey:

  • Practice mindful eating

Overeating consists of inhaling your food and not even thinking about how much you ate or what you just ate. By practicing mindful eating, you’ll start to enjoy your meal and feel full, so you’ll know when to stop eating.

  • 16-week diet plan

Not only does it contain a meal and workout plan, but it also helps you create healthy habits and get back in shape. It is a great way to start until you get your own idea of planning your meals and exercise.

  • Hire a nutrition coach

A nutrition coach makes a plan for you, both meal and workout, and makes sure you stick to it. He listens to your needs, is always there for you, motivates you, and supports you. 

  • Follow affirmations to lose weight fast

Positive affirmations can make it easier to start your journey. They make you feel good, motivated and they do make a change.

Final thoughts

It is not easy to notice if a person suffers from an eating disorder. Some signs of an eating disorder can be:

  • Lack of control over eating habits
  • Inability to handle stress and negative emotions
  • Preference for junk food
  • Strong cravings that occur out of nowhere
  • Sudden and intense feelings of hunger
  • Requesting to eat when already full
  • Low self-esteem

These signs may look normal, but it is when they frequently arise that they pose a problem. If you recognize any of the signs listed above (it doesn’t necessarily need to involve you), you can always reach out for help at our weight loss clinic.

Nurse Walton


Nurse Walton

Born and raised in Chicago, IL, Chanay received her Practical Nurse licensure and went to work in clinical specialties such as Home Health, Assisted Living, Long-Term Care and Dialysis Centers. Through this work, she realized the importance of diet, nutrition and weight loss among her patients. This led her to open A Better Weigh, Inc. Medical Weight Loss Center in 2009.

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