bariatric medicine, depression, mood disorders, obesity, psychology, Uncategorized

The True Cost of Comfort Eating

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In society, the use of food is far more than just to meet your nutritional needs.  We even have specific foods, to mark specific occasions.  Food brings people together.    The giving of food is the expression of love from one to another.   Like that old song “Sweets for my Sweets, Sugar for my Honey”.

We eat to heal and grow our bodies, and but also to feed our emotions.  Whether we are joyfully celebrating with cake, nourishing cold symptoms with soup, or mindlessly eating a box of chocolates in our efforts to get through a relationship break up. Food is there, within reach to cure our ills, whatever they may be.

Emotional eating  occurs when we are stimulated to eat because of experiencing negative emotions or mood disorders such as stress, anxiety and depression.  We attempt to bring ourselves comfort when doing so.  However, this action can lead to the development of eating disorders, such as Binge Eating Disorder or Bulimia.  Anorexia Nervosa is another eating disorder when someone feels compelled to lose weight, and attempts to avoid or reduce intake of calories and exercises excessively.  However, it is the high calorie food intake that I am focusing on.

Our tongue is equipped with taste buds, which detect sweet, sour, bitter and salty tastes.  Sweet and high fat foods are more pleasurable to eat, and we are driven to eat these as a source of energy.  Our tongues ability to taste bitter and sour tastes, enables us to detect any food which may be poisonous, or decayed, and therefore not useful for our nutritional.   In nature, sweet foods include berries, honey, fruits, sugar beets, sugar canes amongst others.  They have calories for energy and also important vitamins, minerals and proteins.  Our processed foods is a different matter.


By combining sugars, fats and even salt in food manufacturing, foods become more pleasurable to eat.  The term ‘bliss point’ is used when a product has just the right amount of sugar, fat, and salt to optimise its palatability.  In other words, to optimise your eating pleasure.  This pleasure is experienced in your brain, but is a short lived experience.  Overeating occurs, when we seek to prolong that experience.  Especially in our attempts to ease emotional pain.  The problem is, that what you’re eating is likely to cause more emotional pain in the long run. Namely in the form of mood disorders such as stress, anxiety and depression.

Aside from the additional weight gain and self-directed negative thoughts about the weight,  which can lead or be a consequence of mood disorders, studies have shown that there is a link between an unhealthy diet and mood disorders.

When overeaters experience stress or anxiety, the behaviour to overeat will be stimulated (Macht 2008). The consumption of high fat/sugar foods does reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety, but only provides short-term relief (Mariam and Morris 2010).  Low levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids have been found to be linked to an high incidence of depressive symptoms (Peet et al 1998), although other studies have found that increasing Omega 3 intake, leads to a decrease in human depressive symptoms (Lin & Su 2007).  On the other hand, high levels of saturated fat intake not only increases abdominal obesity, but have been found to be a causative factor in neurological impairments (Weber-Hamman et al 2002, Van Reedt Dortland et al 2013).

The increase in abdominal obesity and/or neurological impairments can lead to an increased vulnerability to stress/anxiety/depression (Novic et al 2005, Sharma & Fulton 2013),  which leads to overeating and so the cycle continues.

Unfortunately,  mood disorders are under diagnosed in obese people.  Or an assumption is made by the health care professional that the obesity is the cause of the mood disorder and treats the obesity instead.   It is also in the healthcare organization’s interest to deal with the obesity issue due to the cost of diabetes medication.

You will see one example of this if you watch the movie on Netflix “The Man Who Ate Himself to Death”.  In it you will see the story of Ricky Naputi.  A man in his late 30’s who weighed 900lbs at his heaviest. You will see the story unfold of others trying to get help for Ricky to lose weight.  You will hear the frustration of his partner.  You will hear the irritation from his doctor who is about to give up on Ricky for his lack of effort on his weight loss journey and who in fact berated Ricky for restarting his antidepressant medication instead.  You will also hear the neutral but someone judgemental tone of the narrator, as Ricky seemingly is not ‘pulling his weight’ in dealing with his weight loss.  If you listen really carefully, you will also hear Ricky say how he feels better taking the antidepressants and his cravings are reduced.  somehow, everyone misses this.  The wife leaves him, and by the end of the movie, Ricky is dead.  He didn’t eat himself to death as the title of his story suggests, he actually took an overdose of pills and committed suicide.  Unfortunately, many bariatric patients are doing the same post-surgery,  as their underlying mental health condition goes undiagnosed, even if they have successfully lost a large amount of weight.

If you are obese and experiencing stress, anxiety and/or depression, speak to your healthcare professional.  If you would prefer to talk to someone else about this but are housebound, please either contact a mental health support helpline or feel free to email me at I am in the process of creating a webinar and course which will assist you in overcoming the topics I raise in this blog.  But, I do advise you to seek local help so that these issues can be addressed.

Whatever size you are, you are worth your weight in gold and much more!

Best wishes,

Antoinette Niles Bsc (Hons) Psychology

PS:  Please forgive my two month absence.  I moved home twice and had to catch up on my Masters Degree in Mental Health Sciences. But, everything I’m learning I hope to pass on to you.

October 2010 11st 10lbs