Binge Eating Disorder and Stress: Learning Relaxation Techniques

Stress and its effects on health are many. Most of us know this from experience, and can remember a time when worry about a job or relationship led to feelings of panic, insomnia, or a stomach ache. Stressful events lead to the production of hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine) associated with a “fight-or-flight” response.

A long time ago these stress-related hormones helped us to run from an enemy or fight in a battle, but now they are less helpful and when stress becomes chronic the affect it has can be even more detrimental. Stress hormones1 acutely can both make people feel alive and awake, while reducing pain and appetite, but at the same time, and especially on a prolonged basis, they can contribute to disrupted sleep, poor mood, increased infections, gastrointestinal problems, heart disease, and many other health conditions.

There Are Various Coping Mechanisms for Stress

Many people’s response to stress is to seek a coping mechanism to help take their mind off the things that are stressful. This may be spending money, or using substances such as alcohol, nicotine, or other things to fill the void. The socially acceptable use of food to fill the void is even more common.

The majority of people have a food they would consider a comfort food – whether it be something that they remember from their childhood, or other foods commonly associated with warmth and feeling good. Although choosing a food because it makes you feel this sense of security in an unsecure environment or world can feel good from time to time, eating in excess can become a problem both for people who have identified with having binge eating disorder, as well as those who do not.

Help Anxiety with Air and Water

Funny underwater family legs in swimming pool on vacationAir and Water: Two very simple things actually can impact anxiety dramatically, and are also inherently necessary to all aspects of life. These two tools are breathing and drinking water. Breathing, particularly the exhale portion, promotes relaxation and actually physiologically leads to a slowing of the heart rate2.

There are different ways to focus on your breathing, the first step is to become aware of it. Taking several slow and deliberate breaths, allowing the belly to expand, and slowly exhaling is one way to focus on the breath but there are many other ways to do this as well.

Avoiding Dehydration to Help with Stress

With dehydration the body releases a hormone called vasopressin, and vasopressin promotes an increase in anxiety and depression3. Dehydration commonly occurs as many people forget or don’t find time to hydrate, and who would have thought it also can make you more anxious too!

Drinking at least ½ your weight in ounces of water (70 ounces if you weigh 140 pounds) is the baseline amount of water most healthy people should consume. This amount should increase if you exercise or are in a hot environment. No matter what setting you are in you can always utilize at least one of these techniques!

Connecting with Animals and People

Dog Going SwimmingAnimals and People: Petting an animal or hugging a friend are also some simple things that can reduce anxiety and stress. There are many ways in which these connections can be helpful, but one way is that they both promote the release of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes the reduction of anxiety and depression3.

Both connections with animals and other people are used in many different therapeutic settings, whether it be having a service animal or engaging in therapy groups. Talking with others or caring for an animal reminds us that the things which are our “stressors” may be small and insignificant, it also opens up our eyes to see the world around us again.

Experiencing Exercise and Nature

Exercise and Nature: Exercise and nature both have many benefits on our overall well-being as well as mental health and stress response. Gentle exercise such as walking and restorative yoga may offer greater benefits than activities such as running if stress levels are already high as intense exercise also increases the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine4.

Natural environments are restorative, and help bring the body back to a calm and centered state of function5. Earthing or grounding6 is one way to connect with both nature and to exercise, doing yoga or gentle stretches in a park is another.

Including Relaxation on a Day-to-Day Basis

Although it oftentimes is difficult to think and function when stressful events happen, including more of these things on a day-to-day basis will help you to have a more automatic reaction when stressful events hit!

Remembering to take a break several times a day to feel your body breath, drink a glass of water, and go for a little walk can offer great benefits. Don’t forget to pet an animal or say hello to a stranger on your way!

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What ways have you found that best reduce the stress in your life? How has reducing stress contributed to recovery from disordered eating for you or your loved one?

About the Author:

Dr. Carrie Decker is a board-certified naturopathic physician with the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners, graduating with honors from the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Decker works with clients locally in Wisconsin as well as distant regions via telemedicine (Skype or phone) services.

To find out more about Dr. Decker or naturopathic medicine, visit or call 608.620.5831.


  1. Klein, S. (2013, April 13). Adrenaline, Cortisol, Norepinephrine: The Three Major Stress Hormones, Explained. Retrieved July 17, 2015.
  2. van Dixhoorn, J. (1998). Cardiorespiratory effects of breathing and relaxation instruction in myocardial infarction patients. Biological Psychology, 49(1-2),123-35.
  3. Neumann, I.D. & Landgraf R. (2012). Balance of brain oxytocin and vasopressin: implications for anxiety, depression, and social behaviors. Trends in Neurosciences, 35(11),649-59.
  4. Kindermann, W., Schnabel, A., Schmitt, W. M., Biro, G., Cassens, J., Weber, F. (1982). Catecholamines, growth hormone, cortisol, insulin, and sex hormones in anaerobic and aerobic exercise. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 48(3),389-399.
  5. Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15(3),169-182.
  6. Klein, S. (2013, April 13). Adrenaline, Cortisol, Norepinephrine: The Three Major Stress Hormones, Explained. Retrieved July 17, 2015.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Contributor: Carrie A. Decker, Naturopathic physician

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 22nd, 2015
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