5 Tips for Coping With Stress Eating on 9/11

How does trauma impact the way you eat?

Posted Sep 11, 2013

WARNING:  you may be vulnerable to emotional eating today.  Twelve years ago, as a nation, we experienced a collective trauma on 9/11. Today, many people may experience what is know as the "anniversary effect" or a reexperiencing of the memories and feelings related to that day. You may have encountered this same effect on the anniversary of someone who has passed away.  

Studies have found that trauma triggers emotional eating.*  Why?  It’s complicated.  In part, trauma skews emotions.  Trauma is any event that is deeply disturbing or distressing (abuse, accident, divorce, death, bullying etc.). Sometimes it magnifies feelings/sensations and causes hyperarousal. On the other hand, feelings may be so intense after a trauma that you may avoid or numb out from the emotions with food or other substances. 

While these reactions are common and can help you protect yourself, this leaves you at risk for overeating, weight gain and/or eating problems. Why? Your feelings give you valuable information. When your feelings have been skewed by trauma, it’s difficult to interpret them correctly and know when to stop and start eating. This leaves you at risk for overeating (or undereating).  Not to mention that food can be temporarily soothing when you are distressed.

Interestingly, even witnessing a trauma secondhand can lead to emotional eating. *For example, in March of 2011, there was an upsurge of disordered eating after watching television and internet coverage of an earthquake.  So, you may not have been in New York on 9/11, but watching the TV coverage may be enough to induce a trauma response and trigger emotional eating.

No matter what kind of trauma you’ve experienced, it doesn’t have to permanently impact your eating.  I talk about this in Chapter 7 of my new book EatQ and offer strategies for coping with the effects of trauma on your eating and weight gain/binge eating.

Tips for Preventing Stress Eating on 9/11

1) Limit media.  Watching 9/11 images play out on TV or even hearing about it on the radio can be triggering of old feelings, which may lead to stress eating. Turn off the TV or radio.
2) Find Support.  Talk to a friend or family member today.  Don’t isolate, even if you feel like it!  Connect with a therapist if you are very overwhelmed.
3) Write about your feelings.  Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel.  Writing about it can help you cope and organize your feelings.
4) Follow Your Normal Routine.  Routine helps regulate your feelings.  Do what you normally do—eat at the same time, go to bed on schedule etc.
5) Take Care of Yourself.  Recognize that you might have an emotional day.  Nourish yourself with healthy foods, and find soothing activities to calm and comfort yourself (like a walk with a friend).

"Like" us on Facebook! Dr. Susan Albers is a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and the author of six books on mindful eating including Eat.Q:  Unlock the Weight Loss Power of Emotional Intelligence. She has been quoted in the New York Times, Self, O Magazine, Shape, Fitness and on the Dr. Oz show. www.eatq.com

*Disordered eating following exposure to television and internet coverage of the March 2011 Japan earthquake. Rodgers RF, Franko DL, Brunet A, Herbert CF, Bui E.

Int J Eat Disord. 2012 Nov;45(7):845-9. doi: 10.1002/eat.22031. Epub 2012 Jun 12.

Emotional eating and its effect on eating behaviour after a natural disaster.

Kuijer RG, Boyce JA. Appetite. 2012 Jun;58(3):936-9. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2012.02.046. Epub 2012 Feb 24.

J Trauma Stress. 2013 Aug;26(4):521-5. doi: 10.1002/jts.21824. Epub 2013 Jul 25.

Posttraumatic stress disorder is associated with emotional eating. Talbot LS, Maguen S, Epel ES, Metzler TJ, Neylan TC.