Anger can be a legitimate response to fear, frustration, or pain, but it's not an easy emotion to deal with because, in so many situations, it is considered socially unacceptable to express it. All it takes for some people to feel angry is a hurtful comment from a relative or a disagreement with a partner. It's easier to feel anger than to feel hurt, or at least it may be more empowering.
Some people scream out loud when they're angry, while others rage quietly, holding in their anger out of fear or a need to avoid conflict. If you are an emotional overeater, or a self-described food addict, you may use food to suppress feelings when you are angry at yourself or someone else or, just as likely, when your anger gives way to anxiety or other emotions.
For some people, all it takes to provoke anger is a comment from a relative or a disagreement with a partner. If you are an emotional overeater, your thoughts may immediately turn to food. For one thing, food is a distraction, and once you start focusing on food, you stop focusing on your feelings. Eating makes you feel better, if only for the moment. Anger feels better than hurt, or at least it makes you feel more powerful, and eating makes you feel better overall, if only for the moment.
But then, it's likely that other emotions will set in. You may feel guilty or ashamed or perhaps angry with yourself for eating too much. And in response to those feelings, you may find yourself eating again. This cycle is likely to continue until you stop it by figuring out how to deal with your anger head-on and in ways that are not self-destructive.
Think about it. Someone said or did something to make you feel angry. You've been hurt, and the way you're coping with the pain is to hurt yourself even more by overeating or eating food that isn't good for you. That may not seem as bad as some of the other ways people deal with anger, but what you're really doing is internalizing your feelings, or turning your anger back on yourself. Over time, eating to help diffuse anger and other emotions can result in the type of weight gain that affects both your physical and mental health.
Anger is simply an emotion, and nothing to be ashamed of. Eating in response to anger is normal behavior, and also nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone eats for emotional reasons from time to time, and it's only a problem when it interferes with your health and the quality of your life. But while anger may help you feel less vulnerable, it doesn't make the pain go away. Neither, in the long run, does food.
If eating in response to anger is a problem for you, recognize first that it is an emotion that is triggering your need to eat, not actual hunger. Try to speak your anger whenever you can and, when you do, be very clear what you're angry about and why. If you can't address your feelings to the person who made you feel so angry, write them down in a letter or journal or discuss them with a trusted friend, family member, or therapist. Writing is a simple way to release feelings rather than suppress them (or eat them), until you are able to confide in another person. Routine physical activity is another healthier way of diffusing anger; studies have shown that people who use exercise to cope with anger and other negative emotions are less likely to end up feeling depressed. Other ways to cope with feelings of anger include relaxation and mindfulness techniques like yoga and meditation, as well as positive therapeutic techniques, such as forgiveness and gratitude practice, that can help free you from painful or negative experiences.
Goodwin RD. Association between coping with anger and feelings of depression among youths. American Journal of Public Health. April 2006;96(4):664-669.