You've Heard of Stress-Eating; But Do You Fear-Eat?

fMRI study suggests that, when were feeling unhappy, our brains light up at the sight of high-calorie foods like this one.

fMRI study suggests that, when we're feeling unhappy, our brains light up at the sight of high-calorie foods like this one.

Something I hear a lot from women in my eating disorder support group: “I’m afraid that…” “I’m fearful of…” Fear is a painful and (duh) scary emotion, so it’s no wonder that we try to run away from it or avoid it. Some people immerse themselves in TV, or a book to escape it temporarily. Other people throw themselves into work or  relationship drama. The way we emotional overeaters often choose to do it, of course, is with candy/cake/fries/etc!

I’ve often wondered what exactly it is about food that can distract us from being afraid, though. What the hell has food got to do with fear? Researchers are working trying to figure it out, apparently. And for the moment, here are a couple of fascinating facts:

• Humans aren’t necessarily the only species that are driven to eat when they’re scared! Classic research found that mild fear made mice eat more food. (Geez, I wonder what the scientists did to the mice to make them feel “mild” fear?)
• Higher-calorie foods like the aforementioned candy/cake/fries trigger greater feelings of hunger in people’s brains when they’re feeling bad or stressed than when they are feeling more neutral or content.

I don’t have some big reveal about what this all means. It just feels good to know that there are real reasons for that weird, emotional drive to eat, tangible things that may be going on in our brains that push us toward these behaviors. Now, let me leave you with a quote from a favorite little devotional-type book of mine, somethin’ to think about today as you face whatever it is out there that might be scary for you:

My life consists of single moments. I occupy them one at a time, savoring the fullness of each, and fine there is no room for fear.”

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.