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We All Eat in Times of Stress — Why Do Only Some People Gain Weight?

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We All Eat in Times of Stress — Why Do Only Some People Gain Weight?

— By Andrea M. Pampaloni, Ph.D.

Emotional eating can create a negative cycle and potentially lead to weight gain.

Many people seek to soothe themselves with food. This practice, emotional eating, can be a coping mechanism for people who experience negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, anger or loneliness. However, the relief often is short-lived because it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. Instead, some people feel guilt or shame at their indulgence, which can lead to more eating and create a negative cycle, potentially leading to weight gain.

Although emotional eating is associated with overweight and obesity, the practice is not exclusive to these groups. A distinction between overweight and normal weight emotional eaters is that people that are overweight do not cope as well in response to negative emotions, which leads to eating more frequently. Further, normal weight emotional eaters engage in more compensatory behaviors, specifically physical activity, which moderates weight gain1. Because regular physical activity also helps reduce depression, it also can alleviate some of the emotions that contribute to emotional eating in the first place.

People with obesity are also often stigmatized based on their appearance. Stereotypes associated with weight can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression2 and contribute to emotional and other eating disorders. Children also experience similar bias and may be teased or even bullied at school. Being subjected to overt stares or exposed to taunts and insensitive comments is hurtful, regardless of age.

An Individualized Approach

It is clear that for weight loss to be successful among emotional eaters, the approach must include a strategy that recognizes and provides tactics to help regulate emotions and their link to eating. To change behaviors and the associated emotional and physical outcomes requires addressing the issue holistically. This involves identifying appropriate coping mechanisms for dealing with negative emotions as a first step, and iterating the importance of an individualized approach to weight loss. This should include opportunities for social support, self-care, counselling and medical oversight. A Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) program, such as New Direction Advanced, includes these aspects, and quick weight loss with noticeable initial weight reduction can be a positive incentive.

It is just as important to recognize the reasons why patients overeat as it is to treat their obesity. Understanding the root cause in parallel with incorporating positive lifestyle changes could provide a new pathway to long-lasting weight loss.



  1. Emotional Eating and Weight Regulation: A Qualitative Study of Behaviors and Concerns
  2. Self-reported Psychosocial Health in Obese Patients before and After Weight Loss

About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.

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