top of page

Breaking Free From Emotional Eating: Environmental Factors in Disordered Eating Behaviors

Updated: Mar 9


Binge eating Environmental Factors in Disordered Eating Behaviors
Environmental Factors in Disordered Eating Behaviors

Breaking Free From Emotional Eating:

Environmental Factors in Disordered Eating Behaviors


Environmental factors play a significant role in the development of disordered eating behaviors, including conditions like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. This post explores how the availability of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, social pressures, and childhood experiences can contribute to these behaviors, and provides recommendations for further reading.


Environmental Factor 1


Availability of High-Calorie, Low-Nutrient Foods


The ready availability of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods in the modern food environment has a profound impact on eating habits. These foods, often referred to as "ultra-processed" or "junk" foods, are typically high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and additives, and are low in essential nutrients. Their consumption can lead to disordered eating behaviors.

To break free from emotional eating I believe living a low-sugar lifestyle can aid in the prevention of overconsuming ourselves with processed high-calorie, low-nutrient foods.


The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a reduced intake of free sugars throughout the life course (strong recommendation) with a reduction of free sugars intake to less than 10% of the total energy intake (strong recommendation) and preferably below 5% of the total energy intake (conditional recommendation) in both adults and children. Available data clearly show that people already consume significantly more sugar than they should, increasing the risk for dental caries, overweight, and obesity. The WHO recommendations are intended for use by policymakers as a benchmark for assessing the intake of sugars by populations and as a driving force for policy change. To create a favorable environment, enabling the overall amount of free sugar intake to be as low as possible and to reduce the frequency of consumption of sugar-rich foods, a range of public health interventions is advised.


Recommended Reading:

  • Book: "Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us" by Michael Moss - This book explores how the food industry has engineered addictive processed foods and their impact on public health.

  • Article: "Ultra-Processed Food Intake and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease" by Fumiaki Imamura et al. in JAMA Internal Medicine.


Environmental Factor 2

Social Pressures


Societal pressures to conform to certain beauty standards can contribute to disordered eating behaviors, particularly in adolescents and young adults. The media, peer pressure, and cultural influences can exert significant pressure to achieve and maintain an idealized body image. I believe that learning how to practice self-love and self-validation as opposed to looking for love, approval, and validation outside of ourselves is key to achieving body peace. This can be achieved by body positivity.


According to Very Well Mind, Body positivity refers to the assertion that all people deserve to have a positive body image, regardless of how society and popular culture view ideal shape, size, and appearance.


Some of the goals of the body positivity movement include:


  • Challenging how society views the body

  • Promoting the acceptance of all bodies

  • Helping people build confidence and acceptance of their own bodies

  • Addressing unrealistic body standards


Body positivity is not just about challenging how society views people based upon their physical size and shape, however. It also recognizes that judgments are often made based on race, gender, sexuality, and disability. 


Body positivity also aims to help people understand how popular media messages contribute to the relationship that people have with their bodies, including how they feel about food, exercise, clothing, health, identity, and self-care.


By better understanding the effect that such influences have, the hope is that people can develop a healthier and more realistic relationship with their bodies.



Recommended Reading:

  • Book: "The Beauty Myth" by Naomi Wolf - This book critically examines societal pressures and unrealistic beauty standards that impact women's self-perception.

  • Article: "The role of body image in psychosocial functioning in children and adolescents: A systematic review" by Zali Yager and Susan J. Paxton in Body Image.



Environmental Factor 3

Childhood Experiences


Childhood experiences, such as exposure to family dynamics, early trauma, or parental attitudes toward food and body image, can influence eating behaviors and the development of disordered eating patterns. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are the perfect example of this exposure. I wrote an article that discusses The Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) of Abandonment and Childhood Emotional Neglect Trauma.


Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years). For example:


  • experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect

  • witnessing violence in the home or community

  • having a family member attempt or die by suicide


ACEs are common. About 64% of U.S. adults reported they had experienced at least one type of ACE before age 18, and nearly 1 in 6 (17.3%) reported they had experienced four or more types of ACEs.


According to the CDC, ACEs can have lasting, negative effects on health, wellbeing in childhood and life opportunities, such as education and job potential, well into adulthood. These experiences can increase the risks of injury, sexually transmitted infections, maternal and child health problems (including teen pregnancy, pregnancy complications, and fetal death), involvement in sex trafficking, and a wide range of chronic diseases and leading causes of death, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and suicide.


ACEs and associated social determinants of health, such as living in under-resourced or racially segregated neighborhoods, can cause toxic stress (extended or prolonged stress). Toxic stress from ACEs can negatively affect children’s brain development, immune systems, and stress-response systems. These changes can affect children’s attention, decision-making, and learning.


Children growing up with toxic stress may have difficulty forming healthy and stable relationships. They may also have unstable work histories as adults and struggle with finances, jobs, and depression throughout life. These effects can also be passed on to their own children. Some children may face further exposure to toxic stress from historical and ongoing traumas due to systemic racism or the impacts of poverty resulting from limited educational and economic opportunities.


Read more here



Further Recommended Reading:

  • Book: "Breaking Free from Emotional Eating" by Geneen Roth - This book explores the emotional and psychological aspects of eating and provides insights into healing from emotional eating.

  • Article: "Parental influence on eating behavior: conception to adolescence" by Marion M. Hetherington in The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics.


Books and Articles for Further Exploration


  1. "The Hungry Brain: Outsmarting the Instincts That Make Us Overeat" by Stephan J. Guyenet - This book delves into the neuroscience of eating and how our brains respond to modern food environments.

  2. "Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works" by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch - This book offers a balanced approach to eating that emphasizes listening to your body's cues and rejecting diet culture.

  3. "Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do About It" by Harriet Brown - This book examines the societal and cultural factors that contribute to body dissatisfaction and the quest for an ideal body.


Understanding the impact of environmental factors on disordered eating behaviors is essential for prevention and treatment. These resources can provide valuable insights into the complex interplay between environmental influences and individual eating behaviors, as well as strategies for fostering a healthier relationship with food and body image.


Understanding the Impact of Environmental Factors on Disordered Eating Behaviors


Understanding the role of environmental factors in disordered eating behaviors is crucial for both prevention and treatment. Environmental influences, including the availability of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, social pressures, and childhood experiences, can significantly contribute to the development and maintenance of conditions like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. This last section delves deeper into the importance of recognizing these factors and their impact on individuals' relationships with food and their bodies.


What to do to prevent this environmental factor?


The Impact of High-Calorie, Low-Nutrient Foods


As mentioned above the ready availability of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods is a defining characteristic of the modern food environment. The consumption of these foods can lead to various disordered eating behaviors, including overeating, emotional eating, and binge eating. Excessive intake of these foods can result in weight gain, obesity, and related health issues.


Prevention and Intervention: It's vital for individuals and families to promote a balanced and nutritious diet. Nutritional education and awareness can help people make healthier food choices, reduce their consumption of ultra-processed foods, and avoid dieting extremes that can lead to disordered eating.



 

What to do to prevent this environmental factor?

Social Pressures and Body Image


Societal pressures to conform to specific beauty standards can exert significant influence on individuals, particularly adolescents and young adults. The media, peer pressure, and cultural ideals often emphasize unrealistic and often unattainable body images. These pressures can contribute to the development of eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.


Prevention and Intervention: Promoting body positivity, self-acceptance, and a focus on overall health rather than appearance can help counteract the negative impact of societal pressures. Education about media literacy and the importance of self-esteem can empower individuals to resist unrealistic beauty ideals.


 

What to do to prevent this environmental factor?

Childhood Experiences and Family Dynamics


Childhood experiences, such as exposure to family dynamics, early trauma, or parental attitudes toward food and body image, can have a profound impact on eating behaviors. Dysfunctional family relationships or adverse childhood events can contribute to the development of disordered eating patterns.


Prevention and Intervention: Early intervention, support, and therapy can be essential for individuals who have experienced adverse childhood events. Family therapy and addressing underlying emotional issues can help prevent the perpetuation of disordered eating behaviors.



 

Collaborative Efforts for Prevention and Treatment


Preventing and addressing disordered eating behaviors often requires a collaborative approach involving individuals, families, healthcare professionals, educators, and policymakers. Some strategies include:


  • Education: Promote nutrition education, body image awareness, and mental health literacy in schools and communities.

  • Media Literacy: Teach critical media literacy to help individuals, particularly young people, better understand and critically assess media messages about beauty and body image.

  • Early Intervention: Identify and address disordered eating behaviors early on to prevent them from escalating into more severe conditions.

  • Policy Changes: Advocate for policies and regulations that support healthy food environments and discourage harmful marketing practices that promote unhealthy eating behaviors.

  • Supportive Environments: Create supportive, judgment-free spaces where individuals can openly discuss their concerns and feelings related to food and body image.


Recommended Reading:

  • Book: "The Beauty Myth" by Naomi Wolf - This book critically examines the impact of societal pressures and unrealistic beauty standards on women's self-perception.

  • Book: "Intuitive Eating" by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch - This book promotes a balanced approach to eating that focuses on listening to one's body cues and rejecting diet culture.

  • Book: "Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do About It" by Harriet Brown - This book explores the societal and cultural factors that contribute to body dissatisfaction and the quest for an ideal body.


Understanding and addressing environmental factors in disordered eating behaviors is essential for prevention and treatment. Collaborative efforts that encompass education, policy changes, early intervention, and support can contribute to a healthier relationship with food and body image for individuals and communities alike. I hope this gave you more clarity on the environmental factors that contribute to disordered eating and how to prevent these experiences from happening to the next generation by taking action to address the issue with the tools and resources I included to further eduction your journey to wellness.


 

Need Help Developing A Plan For Self-Care


Do you want help developing a self-care plan that works for your busy schedule? Do you want accountability in implementing a self-care plan? If you or someone you love is struggling to maintain optimal mental and emotional health, consider reaching out to Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. We are a Metro Atlanta, Conyers Georgia area. We are a coaching and counseling practice with empathetic, skilled counselors and recovery coaches who can help you set goals, develop a self-care routine, and move forward to build a more fulfilling life. Our team would be happy to work with you either just for a couple of sessions to develop and implement a Self-care plan or longer term to work toward overall better mental health within our membership site or other programs.



Breaking Free from Emotional Eating
Dr. Nikki LeToya White

About The Author:


Dr. Nikki LeToya White MSEd-TL, Ph.D. RHN is the founder, director, and full-time board-certified trauma-informed nutritionist, folk herbalist, and wellness consultant at Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. She created Spiced Life Conversation, LLC

Art Wellness Studio and Botanica to provide the Metro Atlanta area with counseling and coaching services where clients are carefully matched with the right program for healing abandonment and childhood emotional neglect trauma that cause codependency, emotional eating, financial stress, and imposter syndrome as it relates to fear of success and being abandon. We help you begin your emotional healing journey with ease. Recently, we have expanded to include an online membership site so we now provide support to people living all over the world. All of our recovery coaches provide at least one evidence-based treatment to assist in your recovery. Dr. White is a big proponent of self-care and helping people live a fulfilling life! She has been in full remission with both codependency and emotional binge eating disorder since 2016. In living a life in recovery from sugar addiction. Loving her low-sugar balance lifestyle.


Warm Regards

Dr. Nikki LeToya White



 

Resource