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Theories Of Stress Eating

When stress enters my life, I begin to eat… a lot. The more stressed out I become, the more I eat. It is this mindless eating that occurs as I work on projects or school work. School work and similar activities seem to trigger the eating more than any other stress, although, family and social stress have also triggered my stress eating response. It does not even really matter what the food is, salty, or sweet, it does not matter, whatever is at hand is fair game. Psychoanalytic Perspective From the psychoanalytic perspective, my stress eating may be seen as a manifestation of fixation at the oral stage of psychosexual development.

Oral fixation is classified as behaviors involving the mouth, such as smoking, alcoholism, overeating, or talking too much (McAdams, 2009). This oral fixation may stem from the heart condition that I was born with. Due to this condition, I was born underweight and my mother was required to feed me every 3 hours, even when I was sleeping, having to wake me up. This constant eating as an infant, from birth to about the age of 6 months old may have caused my oral fixation, in the form of stress eating, later in life. According to Freud, the Id, Ego and Superego are how the mind is structured.

The stress eating that I do can be seen as the Id taking control. The Id according to Freud is, the part of the psyche that resides in the unconscious, that is the source of instinctive impulses that seek satisfaction (McAdams, 2009). Stress eating is my unconscious, seeking satisfaction from eating while satisfying my oral fixation. Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages were greatly influenced by Freud, but they are set around social interaction rather than Freud’s stages set around sexual development. Stress eating may fall under the stage trust vs. mistrust.

Trust vs. Mistrust is in the initial stage of development that children learn whether or not they can trust the world. The child will either learn to trust when their needs are consistently met the child will learn that he or she can trust the people that are caring for her or her, or they learn to mistrust their caregivers if their needs are not properly met. One major milestone in this stage of development is feeding, as in if the caregiver feeds the child when they required food (McAdams, 2009).

Stress eating seems to fit the positive outcome of trust vs. istrust as when a child is fed properly, they experience a positive emotion, that positive emotion and the positive memories remain with the person. These positive feelings associated with eating carry over into adulthood and during times of unpleasant emotions, such as stress, they turn to something associated with pleasant emotions, in my case food. Defense mechanisms are a mental process initiated, usually unconsciously, to avoid conscious conflict, anxiety or other uncomfortable situations. The best defense mechanism that may explain my stress eating would be reaction formation.

Reaction formation is when one unconsciously takes a negative feeling and flips it to a positive feeling (McAdams, 2009). This could be similar to the trust vs. mistrust from Erikson’s psychosocial development. Stress eating replaces stress with food in an attempt to feel more in control of their emotions. Freud’s psychosexual stages of development, and defense mechanisms intertwine nicely with Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. All of these theories of psychoanalytic theory could explain my stress eating in a very similar way. The behavioral / social learning perspective

Classical conditioning is a learning process in which a response to a stimulus comes to elicit a response to a previously neutral stimulus. This technique is achieved by repeated pairings of the neutral stimulus with the new stimulus (McAdams, 2009). Stress eating can potentially be explained by classical conditioning by repeated success in feeling better when stressed, by eating. This makes sense, the more that I mindlessly eat when I am stressed and I feel better, the more likely I am to mindlessly at when I am stressed in the future because I know that it will turn my negative emotion of stress to a more positive one.

Operant conditioning is a type of learning where behavior is controlled by consequences and rewards. The various techniques that are associated with operant conditioning are, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment and negative punishment (McAdams, 2009). Stress eating a form of negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is when when a certain stimulus is removed after a desired behavior is exhibited. The likelihood of that behavior occurring again in the future is increased because of removing the negative consequence (McAdams, 2009).

The stimulus of stress is removed when I mindlessly eat when I am stressed. This reinforces the behavior of mindlessly eating as it takes away the negative stress, thus making the behavior of mindlessly eating more likely in the future. Social-cognitive theory is the concept that people learn by watching others. This theory explains personality in terms of how a person thinks about and responds to their social environment (McAdams, 2009).

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