Your question: Why do I eat so fast when I have anxiety?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Each person develops different strategies to cope with anxiety. Anxiety, although it can be annoying, is necessary for daily life. In small doses, anxiety allows our body to be alert to external demands, reacting when we encounter a threat.

The problem is when anxiety becomes very intense and recurrent, and also causes secondary problems. One of these secondary problems is overeating too much and too quickly. Some people react to anxiety by eating large amounts very quickly, thinking that this will alleviate their anxious symptoms.

Eating is an extremely common resource that people with anxiety employ in an attempt to alleviate their symptoms. Research has shown(1) that stress and anxiety change eating patterns and the prominence of food consumption, causing people to eat more and faster when they are anxious.

A stressful event comes into your life and you react by eating large amounts of your favorite snack or food to relieve the anxiety, but when you are done, you only feel guilt and frustration with yourself, and probably, more anxiety.

Binge eating (too much and too fast) causes negative effects on your physical and mental health, so while you are not to blame for responding to anxiety in this way, you do have the power and ability to improve this habit to feel better about yourself.

Why do you eat quickly when you are anxious?

There are emotional and biological factors that explain why you eat excessively and very quickly when you are anxious. In general, your body makes you feel an intense sensation of hunger, even when you are full, and demands large quantities of food, which, due to the same agitation and state of alertness characteristic of anxiety, are consumed in an accelerated manner.

When you experience stress and anxiety, your dopaminergic system in the brain is affected, as well as other regions of the brain related to motivation and reward. This means that your mind makes your body feel like it needs food to compensate for the energy your body expends during periods of stress and anxiety (1).

You may have noticed that it is not precisely vegetables that people seek out when they feel anxious, but foods high in sugar and fat. This is because the body feels the need to recharge energy, activating the dopamine circuits in the brain. This happens even if you are not really hungry.

In addition, many people learn from childhood to relieve their emotional problems with food. If a child cries, they compensate by giving him a sweet, even if he is not really hungry. These patterns are repeated into adulthood. Food becomes a kind of placebo effect that people resort to when they are anxious or depressed, however, eventually, this only makes them feel worse, as they question their capacity for self-control.

How to avoid eating when you are anxious?

Eating too much too fast causes both physical and emotional problems. Eating too much too fast when you feel anxious aggravates your anxiety in the long run, as you are not dealing with the initial problem which is the anxiety itself.

It is an endless cycle that only changes when you find the determination to deal with the problem of anxiety, and your habit of “relieving” anxiety through overeating.

Keep an emotional diary

It is necessary that you learn to identify what are the triggers of your anxiety. It can be work, studies or even people in your family circle. Whatever the case may be, an emotional diary will be very useful to identify them. In it, you will write down the circumstances surrounding the episodes of anxiety you have, indicating what was happening at that time, where you were and who you were with. This will allow you to know in which areas of your life to start making changes.

Eat at regular intervals

Habits that take time are impossible to change overnight. Everything must be gradual, and this is no exception. Instead of eating large amounts of food all at once when you are anxious, eat small portions at intervals of 3 or 4 hours. This will allow you to reduce the amount of food you eat and gradually adapt to not using food as an escape from anxiety.

Additionally, you must constantly remind yourself to eat slowly, chewing your food well and breathing lightly while eating.


Physical activity is helpful in coping with anxiety because it allows you to better control your body and mind. In addition, you are taking care of your physical health, which can be affected by unhealthy eating habits. Whether at the gym, practicing a sport or from the comfort of your home, exercising is a very good ally of physical and mental health.

In my experience…

Eating quickly when you feel anxious is quite normal, however, it is a problem that requires habit modification on your part. Although it can feel overwhelming to make changes in your life, they are possible if you apply them gradually, at your own pace. Anxiety does not have to consume your life, and food does not have to be the temporary “relief” you seek when you are anxious.

You have the ability to be your own reassurance by learning to manage your anxiety symptoms and alleviating your symptoms. The fact that you are seeking professional help through this message proves it to me, and I applaud you for making that decision and being on track to improve your mental health and overall, your physical health.

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