Sad, Depressed or Lonely Eating

Steph Wagner

February 23, 2022

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Eating when Sad, Depressed or Lonely after Bariatric Surgery


blog image theme for winter 2022 focus challenge emotional eating

Why do we eat when we are sad, depressed or lonely?

Click below to listen to this blog!


Sadness is hard to talk about, but we need to talk about it

On the survey I sent out about the emotions that most often cause us to eat, 244 people responded. Sadness was reported 11 times, depression 6 times and loneliness 4 times. Plus the word hurt was reported twice and hopeless once.

All these emotions I’ve put together under the conversation of sadness and eating. We’ll take a particular look at loneliness and depression as well.



Loneliness and Hunger

I read online (on this article) that a recent Harvard report suggests 36% of Americans feel serious loneliness.

Certainly since COVID-19 rocked our lives, loneliness and depression has come alongside it.

What I found interesting as I read about loneliness and eating, is this article that highlights hunger and loneliness. This article summarizes the findings of Livia Tomova, a cognitive neuroscientist at MIT and her collaborators. Their study found correlations between how our brain detects hunger and how the brain detects loneliness.

Through their findings, they suggest we have a need for meaningful human connection in the same way we have need for food.



Depression and eating

I’ve mentioned previously that low levels of dopamine are associated with symptoms of depression. You might remember dopamine if you read the blog post about bored eating.

Low dopamine does not cause depression but can cause symptoms related such as lack of motivation and feelings of helplessness. This is worth mentioning because dopamine is the ‘gas pedal of pleasure.’

We get boosts of dopamine when we eat. Especially if a food is “highly palatable” which can also trigger more of an addictive pattern of eating.  Those are foods high in sugar and fat. They have high palatable enjoyment. The brain loves patterns so the more we eat in a habitual pattern, the more the brain thinks of food.

If you’re having a blue or sad day, you may think of food to feel better. However, if you are struggling to manage your sadness or “blues” it’s best you see a mental wellness professional. Review this website if you wonder if your feelings are more likely depression.



Tips for managing sadness related eating

The trick here is to name the emotion you’re experiencing.

If you feel you’re eating related more to feelings of loneliness, your brain may be telling you that you need meaningful human connection. You may need to schedule a video call, make a coffee date or visit a neighbor. Your need for human connection just might be as vital as your need for food.

If you feel you’re battling depression, are you working with someone? If not, call the number on your insurance card and ask about your mental health benefits and a list of providers to start calling. is a great website with online options available.

If you feel hurt by someone, find space to heal and think through what it was exactly that caused the hurt. Ask the person for a time to talk through. If it’s a key relationship and resolution isn’t being achieved, seek a mental health professional (even if the other person is unwilling).

When it comes to eating for these sad feelings, it may be related to your brain looking to feel better and food can provide that dopamine boost. There are many natural ways to boost dopamine that don’t require food (or drugs).

Exercise releases dopamine and serotonin which both improve mood. You’ve probably heard about exercising releasing endorphins or the “feel good chemicals.”

Sunshine and nature also boost dopamine if you’re able to get out for fresh air. Staying hydrated helps increase energy levels as well which may help you get up and out of the house.

Sleep is a huge piece of the equation with both depression and with low levels of dopamine. Establish a good bedtime routine and get to bed at a consistent time each night. If sleep is a battle for you, talk to your doctor. It’s worth it! Sleep impacts so many areas of your health and wellbeing.



Stay tuned, next up anxiety and eating

We have several more emotions to cover! This emotional eating blog series is a tidbit of the information I’ve covered for members during our Winter Get Focused Challenge.

This information will be released in a video course format and made available to members.


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