Tips&TricksFeeling lonely? How women's solitude spurs unhealthy eating habits

Feeling lonely? How women's solitude spurs unhealthy eating habits

Loneliness intensifies craving
Loneliness intensifies craving
Images source: © Adobe Stock | Nelli Kovalchuk

3:14 PM EDT, April 27, 2024

Loneliness in women often coincides with an unhealthy habit that many might be unaware of. The sensation of feeling alone triggers areas in the brain associated with hunger and craving, leading to the formation of poor eating habits, which may result in eating disorders. Scientists have researched further to gain a deeper understanding of this issue.

The connection between loneliness and various mental health challenges, such as depression or anxiety, cannot be overlooked. Women attempting to alleviate these symptoms with temporary comforts are particularly vulnerable. In moments of solitude, cravings for unhealthy foods emerge over healthier choices, perpetuating a cycle where temporary relief from negative emotions comes through food. This cycle is precisely how eating problems start to take root.

Loneliness and Obesity, the onset of emotional eating

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have delved into the link between feelings of loneliness and poor dietary choices. Understanding the relation between obesity and depression was a starting point, yet the scientific proof needed to ascertain how a lonely person's brain responds to food differently was missing.

One hundred women participated in the study, which involved various simulations to test if brain areas in lonely women responded differently to food. They all had one thing in common – a sense of loneliness and isolation. The findings revealed that women in poorer mental health were overweight or struggling with mental illnesses, using food as a coping mechanism for short-term satisfaction.

A different neurological response in lonely individuals

Dr Arpana Gupta, who contributed to the study published in the journal JAMA, found that the brain function in lonely women is distinct. One part of the research involved showing participants images of food and messages encouraging them to avoid unhealthy eating. As predicted, images of appealing foods triggered the brain's craving and hunger regions.

Falling into the trap of comfort eating to mask loneliness creates a harmful cycle. The surplus calories lead to weight gain and a host of insecurities that exacerbate mental health issues. Depression and anxiety are not ailments that can be addressed with an extra scoop of ice cream.

If loneliness has you reaching for a bag of chips and a soda, consider this a sign to seek help. Consulting with a psychologist, joining a support group, or simply reaching out to a friend can make a significant difference. The most challenging step is acknowledging the problem impeding your daily life and taking action towards healing.

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