Emotional causes of obesity

Studies have found that some people eat more when affected by depression, anxiety, binge eating or other emotional disorders. Being overweight and obese is often the cause of these psychological disorders. It is a vicious cycle whereby the greater the emotions conflicts and difficulties, the greater the incidence of unhealthy eating and obesity.

It is commonly believed that some people overeat because of depression, hopelessness, anger, boredom and many other reasons that have nothing to do with hunger. It is also always not necessary that overweight and obese people have more emotional problems than other people. In fact, obese people are vulnerable to their feelings which influences their eating habits, causing them to overeat.

People also tend to overeat during times of extreme happiness. Parties, holidays, anniversaries, birthdays,can be opportunities where you set aside your diet and start overeating. Paying attention to what you eat during partying can help in overcoming this problem.

To know how brain chemicals influence emotional eating read our article, What is the link between brain chemicals and emotional eating?

The World Health Organization now considers obesity to be a global epidemic and a public health problem as more nations become “Westernized.” In spite of the proven health risks of obesity, the government, insurance companies and the medical profession spend very little money to counteract the commercial and cultural pressures that are producing millions of overweight people.

According to research studies, the factors mentioned below are responsible for obesity.

Sedentary Habits

  • Perhaps the primary reason for the dramatic rise in obesity is the sedentary lives led by most Americans, including children and young people. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1970 and 2000 the typical American man increased his caloric intake by 168 calories a day (a good 17 pounds a year) while the average woman added 335 calories a day.
  • Adolescents need to get off the couch and get moving; sedentary habits in early adolescence influence the body mass index later on.
  • Because of computer games, gizmos and other indoor activities, children are spending lesser time playing sports. They burn fewer calories and thus tend to gain weight. Along with sedentary lifestyle, there is also academic pressure that our children face every day. There is homework, exams, grades etc. to worry about and these pressures often result in less physical activity.


  • Famous media personalities endorse aerated drinks, fried foods like chips that give nothing but empty calories. Children take these personalities as their role models and ape them.
  • Advertising gimmicks are also responsible to an extent. Free gifts given with chips, chocolate etc. encourage kids as well as parents to buy foods that they don’t require.

Home Environment

  • This works in two ways. Grandparents dote on their grandchildren and fill their tummies with sugar-rich foods. On the other hand, if both the parents are working, mothers prefer to buy ready-to-eat snacks rather than cook at home. These snacks are rich in sodium, sugar and fat, leading to accumulation of body fat.
  • Excessive nibbling on junk food and munching in between meals can lead to weight gain.

Emotional Breakdown

  • There are emotional reasons that forces individuals to eat when they are not hungry. Some use food as a defense mechanism to stop unwanted feelings. Food is used as a tool to overcome feelings of boredom, worry, guilt, sadness and loneliness. Eating helps to procrastinate the beginning of a job one does not want to do.
  • Some overeat because they see it as shameful to throw food away. Some people reason that when they are thin they cannot be passive but must face their fears. Some feel inferior and eat to feel secure.
  • Using food to find happiness, peace of mind, and/or gain control in one’s life is the beginning of addiction. Food addiction causes eventual withdrawal from society, friends and loved ones. Under the influence of addiction, overweight or obese individuals may hide stores of food or eat in concealment to hide their addiction from others.
  • In some unusual cases, obesity may be used as a defense mechanism because of the perceived social pressures related to being more physically desirable, particularly in young girls. In these cases, as with the other emotional causes, psychological intervention may be helpful.


  • Many addictions come from bottling feelings inside and covering them up with addictive substances. Men have been taught to hold back their emotions to prove they are men. They have sought different ways to cover up their feelings. Food is one of many addictions men have. Even more frequently used is alcohol.

How Erratic Work Timings is One of the Emotional Causes of Obesity ?

Young children crave for affection from their parents. Teenagers require instant guidance for their queries. To address these concerns of children, presence of parents at home is necessary. But the erratic work schedule of the corporate sector does not allow timely presence of parents at home. Tender feelings of youngsters and queries of teenagers get bottled up in their hearts and minds. It leads to distress, frustration and finally to depression.

Rise in the standard of living because of a corporate job ensures that the materialistic demands of the children are met. But absence of parents severely affects their emotional upbringing. Loneliness can cause sensitive children to develop obesity. Aggressive youngsters may start consuming alcohol or drugs. Unfortunately, such situations endanger both the body and mind of the teenagers. By the time the parents realize the gravity of the situation, the damage is already done.

To learn more how emotions play a role in childhood obesity, read our article Emotional Effects of Childhood Obesity.

The problem of emotional eating is more in women as compared to men. To learn more, read our article Emotional Effects of Obesity in Women.

How to Overcome Emotional Overeating?

Here are a few tips to overcome emotional overeating:

    Pay attention to what you eat

    Emotional overeating is often done unknowingly where you do not pay attention to what you eat. This problem becomes worse when you are watching television or doing other tasks. So, always focus on what you eat and its quantity.

    Recognize the triggers

    Triggers are the circumstances or situations which make you overeat. Stress, worry, anxiety are few of the common triggers. Recognize your triggers and make a note of them. Then you can formulate a plan to overcome the triggers when they arise.

    Keep a food diary

    A food diary can be used to record the the type of food, the quantity of food, and the reason why you ate the food. Keeping this diary over a period of time can reveal some of the behavior patterns and you can correct these to stop emotional overeating.

    Find alternatives to food

    Hobbies such as playing an instrument or painting are good ways to overcome emotional lows. Find a new hobby or just discover good alternatives such as taking a walk, enjoying the nature etc. to overcome the negative emotions.


    While exercising might seem like a tough solution, it can relax you and help you overcome your stress. Moreover, exercise can also help in reducing the appetite, which can benefit you greatly.

    Keep the junk food out of reach

    Avoid stocking high-calorie food or junk food in your home. This will keep you from eating such food whenever you feel emotionally low.

    Eat healthy
    Eating healthy food will provide you with good nutrition and it will also reduce your hunger cravings.