People who suffer from anxiety may want to take notice of their heart health. For many of us, emotional eating can be a crutch during stressful moments — a way to take the edge off and provide some forget-you’re-stressed relief.
Unfortunately, our habits might not be doing us any favors regarding our physical health. In recent research, scientists have associated frequent emotional eating due to anxiety with an increased risk for heart damage.
Suppose you find yourself reaching for food when anxious or stressed out more often than usual. In that case, it’s time to get informed about the potential risks of emotional eating and learn better coping mechanisms for managing your anxiety. Let’s dive into this important conversation!
One recent study was the first to assess the association between cardiovascular damage and eating behaviors. This study included 1,109 people who were all participants of the STANISLAS cohort, which enrolled parents and adolescents in the Lorraine region of northeast France between 1993 and 1995. The Dutch Eating Behavior Questionnaire was used to assess the tendency to overeat in response to negative emotions such as sadness or anxiety.
Researchers included carotid-femoral pulse-wave velocity and diastolic function as measures of stiffness in the arteries and heart, which could indicate cardiovascular damage. Previous research has shown that rises in pulse-wave velocity (stiff arteries) are associated with a higher risk of stroke and heart disease. Diastolic dysfunction, meaning the heart relaxes insufficiently after contraction, has also been linked to a greater likelihood of developing heart failure.
Study results were adjusted for age, sex, education level, hypertension, diabetes, BMI, and other measures of eating disorders.
The study found that among the 916 adults, the median time between poor eating behavior and cardiovascular damage was 13.4 years. Emotional eating was associated with cardiovascular problems such as stiffer arteries and an increased risk of diastolic dysfunction (stiffer heart). It was noted that stress contributed to this relationship.
Among the 916 adults, the median age at the time of eating behavior measurement was 44.7 years, and nearly half (49.7%) were women. The median time between the measurement of eating behavior and cardiovascular damage was 13.4 years. Emotional eating was associated with higher pulse-wave velocity (stiffer arteries) and a 38% increased risk of diastolic dysfunction.
When an analysis was performed to find potential explanations for the association, researchers found that stress levels explained 32% of the associations. Researchers noted, “The reward system may be particularly involved in emotional eating, where eating may reduce anxiety and eating comfort foods may blunt the response to acute stress.”
This study helped show how stress could be a reason some people reach for food instead of hunger. Emotional eaters are commonly less aware of hunger and satiety, but mindful eating brings attention to physical sensations. Some ways to avoid emotional eating include physical activity such as taking a walk, meditation, or breathing exercises.
Supporting Mental Health and Heart Health
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