Like Sandra, almost everyone accepts that people eat and overeat for comfort. This idea is related to the “emotional eating” theory. Although we’ve debunked emotional eating, eating for comfort may have some roots in reality. As we know, dieters and people who eat recklessly experience unmet hunger needs. This leads to excess hunger, which is a particular form of pain. Normal hunger is not painful, but rather a simple urge to seek food, but excess hunger is something quite different.
As we’ve discussed, excess hunger is especially satisfied with rich food, mainly sugar and fat. We call high carb, high fat foods make-up foods and comfort foods fall into this category. The excess hunger that accompanies dieting strongly influences both the amount and the type of food dieters choose and eat when going off their diets. Food restriction, as we have seen, brings cravings for make-up food and that food is what we often call “comfort food.” And why does this particular type of food comfort people so much? Because when extra hungry dieters eat comfort food, they experience a great relief or comfort—physical and emotional. The comfort is about their excess hunger, not about the food itself. Of course eating make-up comfort foods comforts them—they are starving and very much need the ingredients in comfort foods! It’s really just biology.
Is Sarah a comfort-eater? Is she using food to assuage the trauma of her childhood loss? Does her aberrant eating really boil down to her psychological history? What do you think now? Let’s look at a study that suggests that Sarah’s past may not really explain her eating behavior.
Easy Tips For Weight Loss Make up Comfort Food Photo Gallery
Do Overweight and Obese People Have More Emotional Problems than Others?
Thomas Wadden, Ph.D., and Albert J. Stunkard, M.D., did a study on psychological and social problems in obese people. They determined that, although obese people are discriminated against in both academic and work situations, Overweight persons in the general population show no greater psychological disturbance than do non-obese persons.
They note that although early studies viewed emotional disturbances as causes of obesity, new findings show that these disturbances are more likely to be the consequences of obesity. The social prejudice and discrimination directed at overweight persons and the effects of dieting more likely lead to the disturbances.
The notion that overweight people overeat because they have emotional problems is very popular. The news media promotes this idea and television shows promote it too. This belief is so commonplace that uneducated people and professionals alike readily accept it. But as this study shows, there is no evidence backed by research that overweight people are any more emotionally unbalanced than people of normal weight. We have demonstrated that the coincidental occurrence between overeating, eating comfort foods and emotional distress is not a cause/effect relationship. Rather, these behaviors are linked to the feast or famine cycle.
The theories linking people’s emotions and stress to their overeating simply reflect the general state of confusion about weight problems and disturbed eating patterns. There must be some kind of power behind such self-destructive behavior as bingeing on fat-producing foods when you are already 100 pounds overweight! Why would anyone eat so recklessly with their doctor warning them that they are liable to have a heart attack or stroke if they don’t stay on their diet and lose weight? What can possibly account for behavior like this? Of course it appears that emotions come into play. Emotions are powerful and can cause a whole host of problems in people. I suppose this is why the connection appears so tenable. Even professionals—psychiatrists, psychologists, medical doctors and specialists, obesity experts, etc. cite emotions, stress, and poor self esteem to explain overeating and bingeing, even though research does not support these connections. Actually, the field of obesity research is one of the most perplexing in medical history. Physicians are confused. Obesity researchers are confused and searching for explanations en masse. And a growing number of these professionals are overweight themselves.
Here’s another point to ponder. In 1960, the rate of obesity was about 12 percent in our country. By 2000, it was 25 percent. It is now about 35 percent and climbing. The obesity in our country is obvious—just walk down a city sidewalk or stand in line for a movie. Now is it plausible that, in the space of 50 years, human beings have developed such amazing and unique emotional problems, which drive them to overeat and binge, that the rate of obesity in this country has tripled? I don’t think so.
We survived two world wars during the 20th century. Surely, war wreaks emotional havoc on all people involved: soldiers, mothers, fathers, wives, and children. In fact, war is probably the most stressful experience humans can endure. If the emotional overeating idea were really true, wouldn’t there have been a sharp spike in the number of obese people during and following these conflicts?
But, there was not. Well, you may say, by the time the Korean War and the Vietnam War came along, the obesity statistics were starting to climb. Yes they were, and so were dieting and the upsurge in fast food and junk food.
Let’s say that emotions really do cause overeating. What would it take to bypass the alleged emotional trigger to overeat? Since you can’t take the emotions out of human beings, can you train people in weight-loss techniques so they don’t experience rebound even when they get emotional? What would happen if you trained emotional people to think about food, choose food, measure food, and managing food differently—trumping emotional triggers? Research psychologists call these techniques “Behavior Modification.” Do these skills make the difference in people’s long-term weight loss success?
In one of his research papers, one prominent obesity researcher expressed his strong opinion about the emotional dysfunction of overweight people. He asserts complete confidence that behavior modification is the crucial link to dieting success. He boldly states: “Behavior modification is the key to a successful program. The diet is only the “bait” to get the patient to modify his behavior. Most obese patients have used food for something other than its basic purpose—i.e. to sustain life. For most of them, food is emotional aspirin; it represents love. It is a way to deal with frustration. It is used for something it was never intended to be. Thus, the critical issue is changing the patient’s perception of food by behavior modification.”
All right, then. Let’s see what this landmark study says.