Eating can occur because of a physiological need, signaling hunger. That is healthy eating. But eating can also happen for emotional reasons which can produce mindless unhealthy eating or an eating disorder, such as binge eating disorder.
Many people respond to stress, anxiety, or fear with coping strategies, one of which is eating. This is emotional eating. It results from distress and the individual’s attempts to deal with it. The eating behavior is used to reduce the distress. But, this is an unhealthy strategy. It’s not only directly detrimental to health by producing overeating but the emotional eating itself can become a source of stress and anxiety creating a vicious cycle. There is thus a need to find ways to teach the individual to respond to the distress with more adaptive strategies or to increase the individuals’ tolerance for the stress so they do not employ coping strategies like eating.
In today’s Research News article “The Effects of a Hatha Yoga Intervention on Facets of Distress Tolerance”
Medina and colleagues investigated whether Hatha Yoga could be successfully employed to reduce emotional eating. They found that and 8-week, twice weekly, yoga practice reduced emotional eating at a clinically significant level.
Medina and colleagues went further looking at the individuals’ tolerance for distress and found that the yoga practice also markedly improved the levels of distress tolerance. In addition, they found that the yoga practice appeared to have its effect on emotional eating by increasing distress tolerance. With the individual better able to deal effectively with the distress the need for the coping strategy, eating, was removed. Hence, yoga practice appeared to attack the root of the problem.
Looking more carefully, it was discovered that it was the cognitive components of distress tolerance that were improved by yoga. These included a facilitation of the thought processes needed to deal with distress and a decrease in the interference with attentional processes produced by the distress. Interestingly, the yoga did not affect the emotional and behavioral components in dealing with distress. So, it appears that yoga produces clearer thinking and thereby better, healthier, responses to the distress.
This makes sense as yoga practice trains the individual to pay attention in the present moment to exactly what they’re doing and how their feeling. It puts their behavior under conscious thoughtful control. The improved attentional and behavioral control produced by yoga could be responsible for clearer thinking about the distress and more appropriate responses to it.
This is an exciting and potentially important finding. There are other coping strategies other than emotional eating that other individuals display in response to distress. It would be important to look at these other strategies in future research to see if they too are improved with yoga.
So, practice yoga and get control of emotional eating
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies