Eating can be a coping mechanism for people with depression or anxiety. Part of this might be because they don’t have enough of the feel-good hormone serotonin, and eating comfort foods like pasta and bread can bring those levels up, says Holly Lofton, MD, weight management specialist and director of the medical weight management program at NYU Langone Medical Center. “You’re not treating depression with celery,” she says. “It’s whatever your mom gave you to feel good.”
But this coping mechanism might backfire and make your mood worse: People who don’t have a healthy diet are more likely to have symptoms of depression, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
During fight or flight mode, the stress hormone cortisol floods your body, which convinces your body to eat, even if you don’t physically need the calories, says Shanna Levine, MD, an internist in New York. “It’s not out of necessity, but cortisol tells your brain that you’re not full,” she says. “That’s why stress causes people to overeat.” But there are healthier ways to cope with stress.