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Section 7
Emotional Eating: Aggression

Question 7 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed three aspects of binging as a result of anxiety.  These three aspects of binging as a result of anxiety included:  generalized anxiety; fortune telling; and source identification.

In this section, we will examine three connections of anger to eating in clients who binge and purge. These three connections of anger to eating include:  overt anger; suppressed anger; and illogical thinking.

3 Connections of Anger to Eating

♦ Connection #1 - Overt Anger
The first connection of anger to eating is overt anger. Clients who demonstrate overt anger are the quickest to reveal an emotional connection to binging. The client may already be an outwardly expressive person who binges in order to punish him or herself or others for perceived slights. This binging and weight gain serves as a message to the outside world that the client feels injured. This overt anger is accompanied with the typical expressions of anger such as shouting, angry gestures, and at times physical violence.

Nate, age 43, weighed 401 pounds. After he joined Weight Watchers, he lost 190 pounds, but soon became annoyed with the Weight Watchers leader and had several arguments with him.  Eventually, his weight climbed back up to 280. This was followed by several dramatic weight losses and equally dramatic weight gains. Prior to his job as a bakery salesman, Nate had served in the Marine Corps, had a black belt in karate, enjoyed boxing, and participated in several barroom brawls. 

He also admitted attending counseling for abusive husbands.  He was belligerent at work, with both co-workers and employers. During his childhood, Nate had been beaten by his father.  When he became older and bigger, he was able to stop one of his father’s beatings. From then on, Nate associated aggression and size with control and security.

When he was at his lightest, 190 pounds, Nate stated "I was little. I felt exposed and vulnerable!"  Subsequent to the arguments with the Weight Watchers leader, Nate effectively bulked up, most likely as a defense mechanism.  Think of your Nate.  How does he or she react when he or she becomes angry?  Does he or she binge?

♦ Connection #2 - Suppressed Anger
The second connection of anger to eating is suppressed anger. Most psychological theorists have focused their attention on the effects of suppressed anger on eating. Clients who suppress their anger may feel that it is inappropriate to do so either by their upbringing or by past experiences associated with expressing their anger. These past experiences may have been negative or had not culminated in the desired result.

Because of this, they do not assertively express their feelings when they feel slighted or abused resulting in feelings of worthlessness and helplessness. In order to compensate for their lack of direct expression, clients who suppress their anger will begin to use binging as a means to communicate with the external world. In addition, they may be trying to calm themselves down through emotional eating.

Mindy, age 42, had just divorced her abusive and alcoholic husband and moved back to her small farming community with her mother Joanna.  At 225 pounds, Mindy became an object of worry for Joanna, who slowly began to try to control Mindy and thus also control her weight. 

Mindy stated, "I feel like a twelve year old in that house! She won’t let me make my own decisions! She just tells me, ‘Don’t be angry, don’t be sad.  Just put a smile on that face.’  So that’s just what I end up doing! When I do what she wants, she doesn’t bother me, and that’s exactly what I want!"  Think of your Mindy. Does he or she use binging as a coping method for suppressed anger?

♦ Cognitive Behavior Therapy Technique:  Ego vs. Action
To help clients like Nate and Mindy use their anger more effectively, I suggested they try the CBT "Ego vs. Action" exercise. Psychologist Raymond Novaco suggests maintaining a "task orientation" rather than an "ego orientation" toward a provocation will decrease the likelihood of getting angry and increase the likelihood of making effective changes. This exercise strives to accomplish just that. I asked both Nate and Mindy to focus on ways to change the situation rather than become angry at it. 

I stated, "Anger is a belief that you have been slighted. Reacting with emotions hardly affects the other person and damages yourself even more." The next time Nate’s boss unduly criticized Nate, he took action instead of inflating his ego. He stated, "I decided to start looking for a better job and I even got a couple of interviews. As soon as my boss heard that his best salesman was thinking of leaving, he changed his tone immediately!" By taking positive action rather than responding negatively to his ego, Nate was able to change the situation for the better and at the same time avoid binging. 

Think of your Nate and Mindy.  Would he or she benefit from the "Ego vs. Action" exercise?

♦ Connection #3 - Illogical Thinking
In addition to overt anger and suppressed anger, the third connection of eating to anger is illogical thinking.  Clients have expectations for how people and things are supposed to behave and when they don’t meet the client’s expectations, they become angry.  They may blame others or make generalized statements in order to demean them. This type of illogical and irrational thinking sets the client up for anger. 

Darren, age 32, would have irrational and illogical thinking that would lead to his anger. He stated, "I went to this restaurant the other night. Shortly after I arrived, another couple came in and they were seated much more quickly than I was! I can’t believe the nerve of that waiter! He saw me, I entered my name in first, I should have been seated first! After that, I was so angry, I ate two baskets of free bread, just so that they’d have to keep coming over and refilling the basket." 

I stated to Darren, "Couldn’t the other couple have had reservations?  Maybe they were part of a larger party who was already seated.  Do any of these rationalizations sound probable to you?"  Darren stated, "Yea, that could have been it.  But I was too angry to think rationally."  I stated, "The next time you feel angry because of a perceived slight, I want you to make a mental list of rationalizations."  Think of your Darren.  Is he or she experiencing illogical thinking which is then leading to his or her anger?

In this section, we discussed three connections of anger to eating in clients who binge and purge.  These three connections of anger to eating included:  overt anger; suppressed anger; and illogical thinking.

In the next section, we will examine three concepts related to boredom and loneliness with regards to binge eating.  These three concepts related to boredom and loneliness with regards to binge eating include:  providing occupation; providing companionship; and feelings of inadequacy. 

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Evers, C., de Ridder, D. T. D., & Adriaanse, M. A. (2010). Adequately predicting emotional eating with self-reports: Not as easy as pie. Health Psychology, 29(4), 344–345. 

Inzlicht, M., & Kang, S. K. (2010). Stereotype threat spillover: How coping with threats to social identity affects aggression, eating, decision making, and attention. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(3), 467–481.

Lowe, M. R., Marmorstein, N., Iacono, W., Rosenbaum, D., EspelHuynh, H., Muratore, A. F., Lantz, E. L., & Zhang, F. (2019). Body concerns and BMI as predictors of disordered eating and body mass in girls: An 18year longitudinal investigation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 128(1), 32–43.

Pearl, R. L., Wadden, T. A., Bach, C., Gruber, K., Leonard, S., Walsh, O. A., Tronieri, J. S., & Berkowitz, R. I. (2020). Effects of a cognitivebehavioral intervention targeting weight stigma: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 88(5), 470–480.

Radin, R. M., Epel, E. S., Daubenmier, J., Moran, P., Schleicher, S., Kristeller, J., Hecht, F. M., & Mason, A. E. (2020). Do stress eating or compulsive eating influence metabolic health in a mindfulnessbased weight loss intervention? Health Psychology, 39(2), 147–158.

Smyth, J. M., Wonderlich, S. A., Heron, K. E., Sliwinski, M. J., Crosby, R. D., Mitchell, J. E., & Engel, S. G. (2007). Daily and momentary mood and stress are associated with binge eating and vomiting in bulimia nervosa patients in the natural environment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75(4), 629–638. 

What are three conne
ctions of anger to eating in clients who binge and purge? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 8
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