When Eating Makes You Anxious

Community Member

For many people, the act of eating is a stress reliever. There is a reason why we call some foods "comfort foods." Some of us may find emotional comfort in eating certain foods as a way to decrease anxiety. Yet for others the act of eating is not comforting and causes extreme emotional distress. In this post we are going to look at some of the reasons why some people experience anxiety when they eat.

Eating anxiety may be associated with the following disorders:

  • Social Anxiety Disorder

People who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder or SAD may feel great anxiety during social interactions. The fear can manifest in a variety of situations unique to the individual. For example some people with SAD may suffer from anxiety in initiating and sustaining conversation with others or when they engage in any type of public speaking. Another social situation which can elicit fear for a person with SAD is eating in front of others. The sufferer may live in fear that they are going to do something embarrassing if they eat with others watching. The very act of the food being presented, such as at a restaurant, can elicit panic for some.

The forums on eating anxiety due to social anxiety disorder offer some suggestions of how people combat this fear. Some people find success in seeking therapy where the therapist actually goes with you to a restaurant or public place to give you hands-on guidance to overcome your fear.

  • Medical conditions in which choking is a possible symptom

The fear of choking can make eating a fearful experience. There are some medical conditions and diseases where difficulty swallowing is a symptom. Some of the medical conditions which come immediately to mind include Acid Reflux and Multiple Sclerosis. Some of the symptoms of acid reflux   include: Heartburn, regurgitation, bloating, and stomach discomfort. If the condition worsens you may develop dysphagia, a sensation that food is stuck in your esophagus. Multiple Sclerosis is a neurological disease which affects the nervous system. Symptoms can vary widely from muscle spasms to speech and swallowing problems. Dysphagia can also be a symptom of MS where coughing and choking may occur during eating. If you feel that you are having trouble swallowing when you eat, you need to seek help from your doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

  • Globus Hystericus

Many of you have written to the site to ask about a physical sensation of a lump in your throat or something obstructing your swallowing and eating. When no underlying medical condition can be found for these sensations it is called Globus Hystericus. Globus Sensation or Globus Hystericus is suspected when symptoms are unrelated to swallowing, with no pain or physical difficulty with swallowing. In other words, the person may feel that there is something there obstructing their ability to swallow but no physical problem exists. Unresolved grief may be one psychological cause for this psychiatric symptom. Treatment for globus hystericus may include cognitive therapy, antidepressants, or even electroconvulsive therapy.

  • Eating Disorders

People with eating disorders and especially anorexia nervosa may feel acute anxiety when they eat. Most people have attributed the fear of gaining weight as the cause of such anxiety. Researchers are now finding that there is more than just an emotional component involved. A recent article in Science Daily describes a study which shows that the eating anxiety associated with anorexia nervosa may have a biological cause. Researchers from the Eating Disorder Treatment and Research Program at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that women with anorexia nervosa react differently to dopamine than women without an eating disorder. In individuals without an eating disorder, dopamine triggers feelings of pleasure. But in subjects with anorexia, the opposite happens. In this study, dopamine caused the subjects with anorexia to feel anxious. The researchers concluded that when individuals with anorexia nervosa eat, the associated release of dopamine makes them feel anxiety instead of pleasure. This study may be found in the May issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders. Further research is needed to understand why this biological reaction occurs in some women. Anxiety related to eating can be extremely challenging or even life threatening in severe cases. If you are experiencing anxiety related to any aspect of eating it is critical that you do seek guidance from your doctor and/or therapist.

Whatever you are dealing with, you are not alone. There is help and there is treatment. We would like to hear from you. Do any of you experience anxiety or distress over eating? If so how have you dealt with this? Tell your story. You may help someone else who is going through the same thing.