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Four Things You Need to Know About Stress and Eating Disorders


While many develop an eating disorder due to negative body image issues and an unhealthy relationship with food, stress can also become a contributing factor.

When feeling stressed or overwhelmed, we often look for ways to cope and can turn to disordered eating behaviors for comfort. However, this can turn into a vicious circle in which the compulsive behaviors and fears that cause a binge, for example, can raise stress levels even further.

“[People] who struggle with eating disorders are often highly prone to stress anyway, but the actual behavior and the disorder itself can really intensify those feelings,” explains Claire Mysko, adviser to the National Eating Disorder Association.

Four Things to Know About Stress and Eating Disorders

  1. Stress can contribute to the development of an eating disorder. When we feel overwhelmed and stressed, we try to find coping tools and ways to alleviate emotional pain. Many seem to cope with unpleasant feelings through either binge eating or restricting calories. People who resort to these disordered eating behaviors do so because they erroneously believe that they are alleviating stress symptoms. However, turning to these behaviors, Mysko argues, has the opposite effect and actually exacerbates stress.
  2. Disordered eating patterns can cause your stress levels to spike. Eating disorders can cause physical stress to your body as well as psychological stress. Constantly worrying about food and weight can cause anxiety and can also lead to low self-esteem, all of which can elevate stress levels.
  3. College students are more likely to develop eating disorders. According to a recent survey of 10,000 University of Michigan students, 20 percent of college women feel that thoughts about food and weight dominate their life. Mysko claims that college is “a very high pressure environment” and that “for a lot of students, it's their first time being away from home, so that can contribute to stress, and also the academic and social pressures.” Many of these stress factors can lead to unhealthy behaviors such as binge eating and drinking.
  4. Sufferers of stress and eating disorders tend to keep their conditions a secret. Many people who struggle with stress and/or an eating disorder may struggle to admit they have a problem and may feel uncomfortable admitting these problems to others. According to Andrea Lawson, a clinical social worker for Counseling and Psychological Services at Michigan, “[people] tend not to share with others when they are struggling, especially in our perfectionist, high-achieving university community where there may be a greater stigma for mental health concerns, or they may worry they are not good enough to make it in a competitive environment.”

What You Can Do

Despite the many stress factors in our fast-paced society, it is possible to maintain a healthy, stress-free life. It is important to take time away from your busy schedule to de-stress. Take some time off and go for a walk or turn on your favorite music. Another option is to take up stress-relieving activities such as yoga. Making these kind of activities part of your routine can help make you feel more centered and body-positive. However, if you feel as though you are seriously struggling with an eating disorder, do not hesitate to reach out to a teacher, counselor, friend or parent who can help you overcome it.

Source: The Huffington Post