Too much on your plate?

Stress may increase binge eating in female college students

If you’ve been juggling too much on your plate only to find yourself adding too much food to your plate, it may be the way you are coping with stress that leads to binge eating.

“People are more likely to binge eat and engage in emotion-focused coping when under stress,” according to research published in Eating Behaviors journal.

The study included 147 female undergraduate students, ages 18 to 25 years old, at a Southeastern university in the United States where researchers used questionnaires to assess students’ coping styles, binge eating frequency and common life stressors. Researchers found that maladaptive coping styles like avoidance (“everything will work out for the best”) and emotional coping (“I feel worthless and unimportant”) were positively associated with stress and significantly associated with binge eating.

The study identifies the relationship between stress, emotional coping and binge eating as being “consistent with a negative reinforcement or ‘escape theory’ of binge eating”. So if you deal with stress by emotionally coping, it might be reinforcing to binge eat because it temporarily relieves negative thoughts and emotions from stress.

The research results emphasize the importance of treatment availability for college females including cognitive behavioral interventions for developing adaptive stress coping techniques. Identifying adaptive solutions to stress may help female students to better cope with stress and avoid potentially harmful behavior of over eating to cope with stress.

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The study was published in the August 2011 issue of Eating Behaviors

For more information check these out:

Dr. Edward Creagan answers “How do I control stress-induced weight gain?” on the Mayo Clinic’s website

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health page on stress

WebMD has a stress management center site and a page for ways to relieve stress

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