The Link Between Emotions and Obesity: According To Studies

Link Between Emotions Obesity
  • Positive emotions 

Some people seem to overeat to obtain pleasure in the form of good taste and odour or to experience the joy of eating forbidden food. 

  • Avoid stress

This theory means people engage in overeating to wrongly attribute perceived stress to eating. Such behavior helps them avoid things causing stress. 

Related: Emotional Muscle Memory: How To Release Painful Emotions Trapped In Your Body

Emotions and obesity

All of the three theories are based on the assumption that people overeat after having some sort of negative experience that they are unable to regulate. Researchers say that overeating is related to unhealthy emotional processing or poor emotional regulation strategies to an extent in which emotion is dealt with. This type of overeating is called emotional eating. At the end of the day, we are responsible for what we put in our mouths.   

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Another related paper titled  Feeding your feelings: Emotion regulation strategies and emotional eating, highlighted three theories to explain the association between emotions and eating behavior. 

  • Psychoanalytic theory 

This theory presumes that people engage in overeating to escape from anxiety and discomfort 

  • Internal/external theory 

It assumes that people who are overweight  cannot recognize physiological hunger or satiety cues’ because of a default in learning

  • Restrain hypothesis

It proposes that people who restrict their food intake end up overeating at times of stress. 

These three theories to some extent correlated with previous theories mentioned above. It can be concluded that emotions play a great role in food intake, weight gain, and obesity. 

Related: 8 Ways You Can Regulate Your Emotions

Some studies on the effect of eating behavior on mood showed paradoxical results. While some people intake excess carbohydrates during negative mood, some eliminate carbohydrates from their diet to cope up with negative mood. Also, eating as an emotional regulation strategy is found in normal eaters besides restrained eaters and binge eaters.

In the paper titled, “How emotions affect eating: a five-way model”, results showed that anger, fear, and other negative emotions led to impulsive eating to regulate the emotional state and intake of fast food. On the other hand, positive emotions like joy increase the consumption of healthy food and food pleasantness.

control emotions

Another literature review highlighted that when overweight individuals experienced negative emotional states, they consumed more food than normal-weight and underweight individuals. However, in case of positive emotional state or situations, underweight individuals reported eating more than the other two groups. 

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Although the theory of emotional eating is clear – that it’s a strategy to regulate negative emotions – there is no explanatory model as of yet explaining the distinct ways in which emotions can affect the entire process of eating food and factors like –

  • Motivation to eat food 
  • Food choices 
  • Effective responses to food
  • Chewing
  • Eating speed
  • Amount of food intake
  • Metabolism  and digestion

Bottom Line

In short, the emotional state is responsible for eating more or eating less and weight gain or weight loss respectively. Both internal factors like hormones, emotions, pleasure, and conditioning, and external factors like social norms influence hunger, eating, and healthy food choices. You may say emotions and obesity are part of the relentless cycle. Good or bad emotions trigger you to eat more, become obese, which in turn triggers good or bad emotions.

Obesity is a problem that nearly every nation in the world is facing, but there is much that we can do to fix it – Richard Attias

There is a need to focus more on the different effects of different emotions and how they contribute to perpetuate mechanisms in weight gain and morbid obesity. So, effective weight loss treatments can be designed. If you are suffering from emotional eating and obesity, then it’s time to work on emotional self-regulation by seeking professional help.

By eating many fruits and vegetables in place of fast food and junk food, people could avoid obesityDavid H. Murdock


  1. Canetti, L., Bachar, E. and Berry, E., M.,(2002). Food and emotion. Behavioural processes, 60, pp.157-164.
  2. Evers, C., Marijn Stok, F. and de Ridder, D.T., 2010. Feeding your feelings: Emotion regulation strategies and emotional eating. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(6), pp.792-804.
  3. Christensen, L., 1993. Effects of eating behavior on mood: a review of the literature. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 14(2), pp.171-183.
  4. Czepczor-Bernat, K. and Brytek-Matera, A., 2020. The impact of food-related behaviours and emotional functioning on body mass index in an adult sample. Eating and Weight Disorders-Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, pp.1-7.
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