Why some people eat too much when they are upset

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Swallow a litre of ice cream in case of irritation : in the collective imagination, this practice has almost become a image of Épinal. If all the world does not need to empty an entire jar of chocolate spread chocolate to cheer you up, it seems that there are general differences in the way people are faced with events upsetting that affect them, with some being more likely to find comfort in food than others.

by Laura Wilkinson, lecturer in psychology, Swansea University, Angela Rowe, lecturer in social and cognitive psychology, University of Bristol, and Charlotte Hardman, a lecturer in nutrition and obesity, University of Liverpool, originally published on The Conversation.

This finding is important, because in a context of a tendency to excess food, the fact you have to eat to be able to cope with his negative feelings may promote’ overweight and obesity. However, the number of overweight and obese people is higher than ever. Recent estimates suggest that by 2025, 2.7 billion adults in the world are affected by obesity, which exposes them to health problems such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Why, unlike others, some people deal with their emotions in having recourse to the food ? A psychological concept may help to explain this difference : the theory of adult attachment. Depending on the level reached by their fear of being abandoned by those they love, the adults are more or less high on the scale of the” anxious attachment “. The place where we stand on this last determines a set of expectations vis-à-vis the way we and others we behave in our personal relationships. These are put in place in response to the care we were given during our childhood, which may characterize our attachment style.

A recent meta-analysis (a study combining the results of many other studies) has shown that the more the anxiety of attachment to a person is, the higher it will adopt eating behaviors that are unhealthy, and this has a knock-on effect on his body mass index (BMI). Two other studies have also shown that patients who decide to undergo an intervention of bariatric surgery are likely to have scores of anxiety attachment higher than a comparable population made up of people thin. This difference could in part be explained by the tendency to overeat related to anxious attachment.

Understand the anxiety of attachment

It has been known for a long time that people who have an anxious attachment high are more likely to give importance to the frustrations as well as to manage more difficult emotions when they are angry. This is due to the way in which the orientations of attachment are initially in place. The dynamics and feelings associated with our long-term relationships the most important, including in early childhood, serve as role models and guide our behavior in relationships later as well as in stressful situations.

If someone is taking care of us with a constant attention, helping us to cope with the problems that we encounter during our life, we will develop an orientation secure attachment. When a negative event occurs in the life of people feeling very safe, they are able to turn to others to ask them for support, or to self-soothe themselves into thinking that the people who take care of them their would say in this situation.

However, if the care that we receive are inconsistent – for example in the case where the caregiver does not respond systematically to the needs – a certain degree of anxious attachment and a fear that our needs will not be met develop. In this case, if negative events occur, the support of others will be sought, but it will not be considered as reliable. People with anxious attachment are also less able to find the peace that the people, who have developed a secure attachment.

We have recently sought to verify if this poor management emotional could explain why people with anxious attachment are more likely to overeat. Importantly, we found that those experiencing anxiety, attachment high have more difficulty to take distance with which the thwarts, and to continue doing what they were supposed to do initially. They manage these negative emotions by using food, a behavior that is associated with a higher BMI.

It is important to note, however, that this anxiety is only one factor among many that may influence overeating and the increase in BMI. We cannot say that the anxiety attachment leads to overeating and weight gain. It is also possible that overeating and weight gain influence our direction in terms of attachment, or as both play a role.

Manage eating behaviors

For people with high levels of anxious attachment who are seeking to better manage their eating behaviors, the two approaches seem to be promising. It is either to work specifically on the direction of the attachment and/or to improve their skills of regulating their emotions.

To work on the orientation of the attachment, these people can use a psychological technique called ” priming security “. It is designed to stimulate the sense of security : this is to ensure that persons anxious to behave as if they were in the skin of people ” safe “, able to cope with the negative events of life. The beneficial effects resulting from it are felt more broadly, the people who use this techniques engaging in more behavior that is more prosocial.

One study at least has found a link between this “boot” and the consumption of cuts diet pills : when people think of the relationships that are safe for their life, they eat less, at the time of sessions of “snacking” later, when asked to reflect on relationships that generate anxiety (this work is, however, very preliminary, and has yet to be replicated, and in-depth).

In regard to the regulation of emotions, a recent article has highlighted the importance for people who are looking to lose weight to focus on stress management rather than on calorie restriction. This study does not concern only the people who are suffering from anxiety related to attachment, it would therefore be necessary to continue and deepen this work.

In a perfect world, of course, everyone should be able to experiment with relationships that would help him to develop a high level of security of attachment. There may be a third approach, less obvious : to improve, for everyone, caring for others, and interpersonal relationships.

To go further

To shed her unwanted pounds, the temptation of the strict diet is great, and the battle, lost in advance. Take the path a little longer, but much more sweet will on the other hand long-lasting results. Decryption of three false beliefs persist.

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