Shame Drives Emotional Eating

Why do people engage in emotional eating? Well, because they’re emotional, of course!

It turns out, though, that not all emotions are necessarily equal when it comes to emotional eating. In particular, feelings of shame may be especially likely to lead to emotional eating and binge eating.

A recent study of 250 women found that participants reported engaging in emotional eating in response to a variety of emotions, ranging from anxiety to depression to anger to happiness. In all cases, though, how much shame people felt predicted how likely they were to engage in emotional eating.

In a second experiment, the researchers then divided 91 female participants into two groups: an anxiety group, and an anxiety-with-shame group. No points for guessing that the anxiety-with-shame group reported strong binge eating impulses.

In both cases, the results point to a possible link between emotional eating and feelings of shame in particular.

Other research has hinted at a relationship between shame and binge eating before. A 2015 study found that shame predicted symptom severity in a group of 73 binge eating patients, including both men and women. In fact, 43 percent of the variance in participants’ binge eating symptoms appeared to come down to shame (after controlling for depressive symptoms).

Perhaps it won’t come as a surprise, then, that how much body shame women feel predicts their caloric intake over the next week. Specifically, women who feel more body shame tend to consume more calories in the course of the next seven days.

Overall, shame appears to be a precipitating factor in emotional eating and binge eating. People who feel more shame engage in more emotional eating in response to different emotions and have more severe binge eating symptoms. Meanwhile, women who feel more body shame consume more calories altogether.

The precise reasons for this connection between shame and eating behavior are still unclear, but one thing we do know: based on the research that’s been done so far, addressing shame may be an important step to reducing emotional eating and treating binge eating.

Image: Flickr/Vic