Anxiety and hunger They are two concepts that often go hand in hand. On many occasions, when we are nervous, a voracious appetite opens that leads us to eat throughout the day. On the other hand, the opposite also happens, our stomach is "closed" and we are not able to eat anything.
Why do some people overeat and others stop eating? Is there any emotional difference? Apparently, when anxiety is associated with depressive symptoms we are hungry, and when these symptoms do not occur, we feel an excessive need to eat. Scientific research on this issue is still under development, so here some of the most prominent conclusions will be offered.
Stress, anxiety and excessive hunger
We live surrounded by daily demands: work, study, make food, clean, care for children (whoever has) ... And endless endless tasks. Added to this we also live more or less unpleasant situations. Bad news from a relative, an infidelity, a betrayal, etc. All this can cause us a excess stress and anxiety which, among other things, could affect our food intake.
Daily stress and anxiety can produce a chronic sensitization in subcortical areas that are at the base of the food impulse (Lyvers, 2000). On the other hand, the areas related to dopamine production become hyperreactive. Hyperactivation both because of anxiety, such as stimuli related to food or the food itself. Thus, we become more susceptible to craving for food and triggers excessive intake behavior.
So, Lyvers remarks that "The craving is lived as something irrational given the evident reduction of the inhibitory control of the frontal cortex on subcortical systems that mediate the incentive appetitive responses and automated and unconscious behaviors".
On the other hand, the serotonin decrease as a "cause" of excessive intake. Marta Garaulet, Professor of Physiology and Nutrition at the University of Murcia, notes that "There are studies that show that the intake of carbohydrates increase the availability of its precursor, tryptophan, so that serotonin formation increases. In short, eating sweets makes us happier".
Negative emotions and lack of hunger
Most research on anxiety and hunger focuses on excess nutrition. Hence the difficulty of finding studies that explain the reason for appetite reduction. However, Sheppard-Sawyer, McNally and Fischer (2000), point out that when negative emotions are experienced eating behavior is reduced.
Marta Garaulet states that lack of appetite may be related to a hormonal response. Garaulet postulates that if stress is punctual "Premium adrenaline response on cortisol, which reduces appetite and also produces body fat mobilization".
However, if the stress is chronic, the professor comments that the cortisol prevails over the adrenalide, and in this way increases the appetite and also "more fat accumulates in abdominal fat tissue which is where we have more concentrated cortisol receptors".
Dr. Esteban Jódar, endocrinologist, explains that the difference between hunger or lack of it would depend on the type of stimulus that causes anxiety. In this way, that "knot in the stomach" that prevents us from eating could be explained, among other causes, by a predominance of negative emotions that cause us a greater adrenaline response on cortisol. Remember that the cortisol It is a glucocorticoid hormone that is released in response to stress.
At this point it can be distinguished that stress does not have to be related to a negative emotion. It is not the same to live with stress than to suffer anxiety about the death of a relative. Thus, although we need to calm down in both situations, the first is due to excess activity and the second is due to a loss. So it will be important to see if behind that anxiety lies a negative emotion or an excess of demands.
Despite the chemical processes that are triggered in the body, the importance of proper emotional management is highlighted. Knowing how to control our emotions is key so that a sensation of continuous hunger does not occur nor does it occur to us a "knot" in the stomach.
Physical exercise, a balanced diet, practicing meditation ... are elements that will help us maintain healthy emotional health. This will allow us to keep our hormones and neurotransmitters functioning in order without altering our behavior.
- Lyvers, M. (2000). "Loss of control" in alcoholism and drug addiction. Experimental and
Clinical Psychopharmacology, 8 (2), 225-249.
- Rodríguez, S., Mata, J. and Moreno, S. (2007). Psychophysiology of food craving and bulimia nervosa. Clinic and Health, 18 (1), 99-118.
- Sheppard-Sawyer, C., McNally, R. & Fischer, J. H. (2000). Film-induced sadness as a trigger for disinhibited eating. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 28, 215-220.
- Silva, J. (2007). Anxiety-induced overfeeding part I: behavioral, affective, metabolic and endocrine evidence. Psychological Therapy, 25 (2), 141-154.