Stress is one of the most common triggers for eating disorder behaviors. Often, individuals engage in eating disorder behaviors as a method of coping with stress or attempting to avoid it .
Unfortunately, binge eating is effective in this vain in that research does find it is associated with a reduction in anxiety . Even so, the damage binge eating behaviors can have to the body, mind, and to one’s daily life and relationship to self and others means it is a skill that works, but that is not appropriate or sustainable. To reduce BED behaviors as a way of coping with stress, one must learn alternative methods.
Recognizing Your Warning Signs of Stress
Stress manifests differently for everyone in both mind and body. In order to build a resistance to stress, it is important to recognize when it is increasing. Some physical warning signs of stress and anxiety may include tightness in the chest, an upset stomach, feeling jittery, shaking, tension in the head, neck, and/or jaw, and urges to twitch or fidget.
Psychological warning signs of stress include having a foggy thought process, racing thoughts, considering worst-case-scenario, inability to reframe or stop thoughts, increased fear, and worries about everything that is difficult to control.
Knowing the situational triggers to your stress is also important. Some situational stressors may include disagreements with others, miscommunications, having an upcoming deadline, feeling pressure to succeed, engaging socially, having expectations placed on you, being in an unknown circumstance, and/or not feeling safe or comfortable, to name a few.
Consider the last time you felt overwhelmed with stress and attempt to identify any symptoms and triggers that arose. Be aware of these as you live your daily life and, should they arise along with your feelings of anxiety, move to the next suggestion.
Know Your Skills
Just as everyone’s stress presents differently, there are varying skills that help them overcome. If you struggle with BED, your go-to coping skill may have been to engage in binge eating. Once recognizing this as ineffective, dangerous, and unsustainable, it is a long journey to learn new, more effective and safe coping skills.
As you learn these, create a list and keep it with you at all times. This list may include the names of trusted support-people, drawing, walking, deep breathing, grounding skills, mindfulness, distress tolerance skills, music that helps, entertainment to engage in, emotion regulation skills, etc.
Use Your Skills
Having this list with you is useless if you do not challenge yourself to use it as opposed to reverting to old BED behaviors. When you are feeling distressed, go to this list and try every single (in whatever order) until your distress decreases.
Emotions are always in motion. The stress will not last, and, eventually, one of your skills will help you to ride out the wave.
 Rosenbaum, D. L., White, K. S. (2013). The role of anxiety in binge eating behavior: A critical examination of theory and empirical literature. Health Psychology Research.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published January 31, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on January 31, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC