Why Do I Overeat When I Feel Depressed?

Depression can manifest in many ways. It may deplete your energy levels, make you irritable, or alter your appetite. For some people, depression suppresses hunger. But for others, persistent gloominess can lead to overeating. It’s also possible for an eating disorder to develop first and later lead to depression. Learn more about the connection between depression and overeating, the health risks involved, and how to get the treatment you need.

What is Binge Eating?

Binge eating disorder (BED) is characterized by episodes of excessive eating. In the United States, about 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men struggle with binge eating. Symptoms of BED include:

  • Eating large amounts of food very quickly
  • Feeling like you can’t stop eating, even if you’re already uncomfortably full
  • Eating secretively to hide how much you’re consuming
  • Binging at least once a week for the past three months or longer
  • Feeling disgusted or ashamed of yourself after a binge

overeating while depressed

The Link Between Depression and Overeating

People with depression seek different ways of shaking those unpleasant feelings of sadness and despair. Eating is an easy way to boost your mood because comfort food activates the reward centers of the brain. This prompts you to eat more of the pleasurable food, even if you’re not hungry.

This chain of events may happen to anyone, but it can lead to binge eating when a few bites aren’t enough to suppress negative feelings. Without effective depression treatment, episodes of overeating can happen again and again.

The power of food addiction can lead to compulsive eating even if you don’t have depression. Then, the eating disorder can cause depression to develop because you no longer feel in control. You may also feel guilty, regretful, or disgusted with yourself after eating too much at once. These feelings—along with emotional detachment and numbness—are the definition of depressive overeating.

Overeating comfort food rather than maintaining a healthy diet only adds fuel to the fire. Animal studies have shown that high saturated fat and sugar intake reduces brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Decreased BDNF may be a factor in developing depression, along with dementia and type 2 diabetes.

A high-sugar diet also mutes your brain’s ability to tell the body when it’s satisfied. If you don’t know when you’re full, you’re more likely to continue eating far more than your body needs.

Health Risks of Binge Eating

In addition to potentially causing depression, binge eating can lead to these health problems:

  • Weight gain: While people of average weight can develop binge eating disorder, two-thirds of people with this condition are obese. Binge eating can also cause additional weight gain.
  • Poor heart health: Obesity often leads to heart disease because the extra weight makes it more difficult for your heart to pump blood. Excess belly fat can also increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Binging on desserts causes drastic blood sugar spikes. As your body becomes insulin-resistant, you may develop type 2 diabetes.

Treatments for Depression

When someone with depression binge eats, it’s hard to tell if one condition caused the other or if they’re unrelated. The good news is treatment is available for both conditions. If depression came first, receiving treatment for this mental health condition may help you stop overeating. Here are your options:

  • Psychotherapy: Meeting with a mental health professional can help you work through your problems in a healthy way and improve your well-being.
  • Medications: Several drugs are used to treat depression, including serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).
  • Lifestyle changes: Adopting a regular exercise routine, getting a good night’s sleep, and balancing your work-rest-play dynamic can help combat feelings of depression. You may also want to work with a nutritionist to help you develop a better relationship with food.
  • Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation: Deep TMS™ is a neurological treatment that uses repetitive electromagnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells. It aims to safely and effectively regulate the specific brain structures related to depression. Deep TMS does not involve drugs or anesthesia, has very limited side effects, and requires no recovery.

If you’re interested in trying Deep TMS to treat depression, BrainsWay has the resources you need. BrainsWay is a global leader in advanced, non-invasive neurostimulation treatments for mental health disorders. It’s the first and only TMS company to obtain three FDA-cleared indications backed by pivotal studies demonstrating clinically proven efficacy. BrainsWay’s ultimate goal is to boldly advance neuroscience to improve health and transform lives!

You can learn more about Deep TMS from our extensive online knowledge center or use our website to find a provider near you.