When Stress Causes Disordered Eating…

They often go hand in hand, stress and eating disorders.

When I reflect on some of the hardest times I’ve endured living with an eating difficulty, it has always correlated with times of higher stress.

School exams, starting new jobs, being a bridesmaid, work presentations…if my adrenaline levels are up then my need to use food to cope is too.

Sound familiar?

It often isn’t anything to do with weight or appearance, it is a way of managing my anxiety and keeping myself as calm as possible. I can find food and eating quite stressful so if tensions are high in other aspects of life, it seems easy for me to reduce my pressures with restriction.

Even though my struggles with food have been lifelong, the first time I noticed my eating was truly disordered was during a stressful time. My workplace was restructuring, my boss had left, there was illness and loss in my family and my best friend had cancer. My anxiety levels were raised so much that I felt no option but to restrict my food intake to quieten the noise in my head.

On reflection, it wasn’t a helpful option to take but at the time I was in desperate need of calm, respite and an outlet for the stresses of life and this felt like all I had. Immersing myself in the eating disorder took my focus away from the worry and the intensity of the circumstances and was a strategy to help cope – albeit an unhealthy one which lead to bigger problems down the line.

Of course, there are many like me who find their appetite lessens when they experience stress and that makes maintaining recovery difficult. It isn’t deliberate avoidance, it genuinely becomes hard to force feed yourself when your adrenaline levels go haywire.

When this happens I try to find alternative, positive distractions that help until the stress passes, and remember that the body deals with hardship much better when properly nourished. Much like fuelling your car properly to do longer journeys.

If you really do feel too stressed to eat, you can always try nutritional drinks and shakes to help give yourself the energy you need to get through the harder times. It’s important to not lapse into the disorder but it’s also OK to not push yourself too much during such times. As a great psychologist once said to me ‘hold it, don’t push it but don’t drop it.’  Keep going!

If stress is causing you difficulties with your eating you shouldn’t delay speaking out. Get in touch with us to see which of our services could help you the most.

Contributed by Georgie Lazzari,
PPIE Marketing and Communications Lead