Research suggests that there is a connection between emotional resilience and people’s
eating habits. This is an area that I’m particularly interested in because it’s a common
occurrence that I see emotional eating and restraint being used as an emotional regulation strategy.
To understand this better let’s be clear about what resilience is. Resilience is having clarity about the emotions we feel in the moment. It is about using our body for information to know what we feel and then being able to regulate these feelings appropriately in order to cope with and manage them. People use a variety of skills to do this such as reflection and communication. Research suggests that all eating disorder patients have difficulty in this area and so emotional eating, purging and food restraint become the way of managing their emotions. Therefore, this suggests that where resilience is poor, eating disorder symptoms become a coping mechanism and a way of surviving life and relationships with others.
Emotional regulation via eating disorder symptoms can serve 3 purposes:
1. Eating to regulate or reduce emotions
2. Eating to block emotions
3. Eating / restraining to communicate emotions because there is no other way
Although the purpose of this behaviour may vary for each person, the common goal is to
change emotional state.
So how is food able to change our emotions?
Well firstly, eating is a quick and easily accessible distraction from stress and feeling low.
The food itself is able to alter mood due to its effect on dopamine, serotonin and glucose
and so when some people claim to feel an overwhelming compulsion to eat food (or
particular sugary foods), this of course can be understood. It’s not just eating that can alter mood but also starvation and low weight can lower people’s capability to feel emotions.
Although we know that managing our emotions through various disordered eating habits
can be affective, we also know that it’s not a healthy or sustainable strategy. Being able to recognise your own emotional resilience and identify the areas that you may struggle with is an important tool and cause for action to help you improve how you manage your emotions and maintain healthy eating habits.