emotional wellbeing Mandy Kloppers

The Psychology Behind Eating Disorders: Why Do People Overeat?

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Eating disorders are a severe mental health condition, ranked as the world’s third most typical type of mental illness. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 10 million people in the US alone have anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder (BED). While there are many theories concerning why people acquire eating disorders, research suggests biological and psychological factors can cause them.

5 Top Reasons Why People Overeat

As the saying goes, “you are what you eat.” And it’s true! When you eat unhealthy foods, those foods take over your body and mind, affecting your moods and even your physical health.


But why do some people use food as a coping mechanism? Why do they turn to food when stressed, anxious, or sad?


People overeat for many reasons, and this article will cover some of the most standard ones. When you have an understanding of these reasons, it can assist you in preventing an eating disorder from developing in yourself or any individual.

Lack of control

You might have heard the term “emotional eating,” a perfect example of an unhealthy attempt at gaining control. When people are experiencing anxiety, sadness, or anger—but don’t know how to manage it—they may turn to food for comfort. It’s an instinctual behavior that multiple engage in without being aware of what’s happening.

Desire for comfort

A desire for comfort is a desire to feel safe. The underlying reason that people over-eat or have an eating disorder is that they are not feeling safe or secure in their life. When we feel like our food will keep us safe, we eat without thinking about it. This is a way to prevent ourselves from feeling unsafe and scared.

What emotions arise for you when you think about your favorite foods? Do they make you happy? Sad? Angry? Even if food isn’t necessarily the comfort that people seek out when they’re depressed or anxious (because eating disorders aren’t just about being sad or angry), there are still some commonalities between these two concepts: both involve consuming calories, and both can lead to gaining weight over time.

Food is not the root cause of eating disorders; instead, food becomes an issue when someone already has a problem with their body image—perhaps because another person commented about their appearance growing up (or even now).

Food becomes something of value when other things don’t seem to be working out so well! Eating disorders develop gradually over time as the person struggles internally with self-esteem issues and low confidence levels.

Anxiety and depression

Loss of control over one’s actions, including eating behavior, is a common symptom of depression and anxiety. This can lead to over-eating as a way to find comfort or distraction from negative emotions, low self-esteem, and other issues in life. Depression also leads some individuals to develop an addiction to food, eventually leading to binge eating disorders.

You may be wondering how this happens? While it’s not fully understood yet, it seems that certain foods can trigger serotonin (the chemical responsible for regulating your mood) release in the brain leading us one step further into addiction.


It is another frequent cause of overeating. It’s easy for people to become bored, especially when they don’t have many things. When bored, your brain produces dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel happy. Eating can provide this boost because it releases endorphins into the body and increases serotonin levels in the brain, encouraging feelings of happiness.

Need for exposure

You might be asking yourself, “how do I get my exposure?”. As it turns out, some people turn to food as their way of getting exposure. Food is one of the things we can put in our mouths that will give us attention and make us feel special. This is because when we eat, others watch us while eating their food and talking about other things besides what we are doing or saying. In this way, by exposing ourselves to eating excessively, we can get the same feeling of being critical as when someone looks at us or talks about us during a significant event or social situation. The desire for exposure occurs when people want attention from others because they do not feel good enough on their own without knowing that someone else notices them in some way (eating excessively).

eating pizza

(Source: pexels.com)

How can we overcome the psychological triggers that cause us to overeat?

Eating mindfully is the best way to overcome these psychological triggers if you struggle with an eating disorder. Attempt to concentrate on the flavor and texture of your food, and don’t compare yourself to others. Get enough sleep so you have the energy to exercise regularly, which can reduce stress levels. Consider engaging in additional pastimes like reading books, playing video games, or creating YouTube videos.

Pause for a moment before eating

When you are about to eat something, take a moment to pause. In this time of mental reflection, consider the following questions:

  • What is the food, and what do I expect it will do for me?
  • How many calories will this meal have? How much fat and sugar is in there?
  • Will eating this food make me feel good, bad, or indifferent after I have consumed it (i.e., will it satisfy my craving)?
  • How does it look on my plate, and what does this tell me about myself (or others) who may be watching me eat at that moment?


Eating disorders are not only debilitating conditions to live with but also carry a stigma that can be more painful than the illness itself. It’s essential to understand how these illnesses develop and what we can do to prevent them. Hopefully, as awareness grows, individuals with eating disorders will become less and less common or struggle with related issues like body shaming or self-esteem problems because they feel inadequate compared to others around them.


About the Author

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Genesis Renta is a freelance writer and editor with over four years of experience. She is passionate about helping businesses succeed online and is always looking for new ways to help them grow. In her spare time, she enjoys playing her favorite video games and spending time with her family.

Photo by Liza Summer: https://www.pexels.com/photo/unhappy-black-woman-sitting-in-room-6382668/


Mandy Kloppers
Author: Mandy Kloppers

Mandy is a qualified therapist who treats depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, trauma, and many other types of mental health issues. She provides online therapy around the world for those needing support and also provides relationship counselling.