Hunger Hormone Increases During Stress, May Have Antidepressant Effect

I get irritable when I go too long between meals. I feel anxious and depressed if I under eat over a number of days. Dieting, which once upon a time I thought of as a rational thing, made me cry uncontrollably and without warning.

My daughter gets really focused if she goes a while between meals. Her anxiety, usually higher than most people's, goes down when she under eats. Anxiety and depression are replaced with steely determination and a false sense of well-being when she loses weight.

This difference between me and my daughter used to baffle me. I expected her to respond to hunger the way I did. I'm sure I used to baffle her, too.

But now that I understand the self-medicating nature of malnutrition, especially for those with that predisposition, her anorexia makes a lot more sense. And her recovery seems even more heroic. I can just pick up a sandwich; for her it meant picking up and wrestling down anxiety and depression.


  1. I have a similar response to food that you have Laura. I have naturally fluctuating numbers on a a scale which is normal for me as well as many other women.If I drop a few lbs.I notice my appetite increases. I do not diet but I do not have a set weight. Then again I am in no danger of falling off the edge if I drop a lb. so there's the difference.
    Food is a chemical and while some of us are more sensitive than others I suspect we all respond to the changes. I know that my husband is aware of what we call the "low blood sugar" and needs to eat or he starts to feel angry/cranky in the morning. (this may be his depression) : )
    It's best to think of food as our fuel and make sure we nourish ourselves according to balance.
    Anxiety is NOT balance. It's a sure sign that something has gone awry. Depression is also a sign of imbalance. I suspect there's a closer connection to ourselves and our daughter's than it seems. One way just suffers downward feeling or convincing themselves they've done well. I've heard that for some with anorexia they are very hungry at times but don't give in. I've wondered if this may indicate 2 very distinct different types of ana, one driven down by a biological need, the other one in which someone WANTS to drop those lbs. at any price. The chemical high may be fleeting making for misery as well. There's also all that added thought around food.
    Intuitive eating may be the best way for those of us who do feel the changes. I'd be a happy grazer!
    And that's what I think.

  2. When some people are stressed, they eat more. Others eat less. I'm the latter; so is my wife. So is our daughter and she got anorexia. Suggests to me genetics are at work. Has any researcher out there studied this to see if there's a pattern? Do you inherit your food-related response to stress from your parents?

  3. Anxiety is not balance - that's wonderful, Mary!

    Anon, I don't know of a specific study but it seems to be the assumption out there. I'd like to see more attention and research on this - and more getting this information out to clinicians and families!

  4. Hi,
    I never got "thin enough" to be anorexic. But I sure have some eating disorder (couple of years now). This last study first got me very confused when I compared it to what I know about the Minnesota starvation study. So far, the only mechanism I can imagine is that the future anorexic undereats, it feels good at first (probably from desired weight loss, but also maybe from increased focus), and s/he looses weight. Then s/he does get hungry and food-obsessed, but the (mental) guilt following eating is decupled by the food-induced (physical) anxiety. When I keep myself from eating a piece of cheese, it is not really because I think of how the calories are going to affect my weight (small concern), but mostly because I know how anxious and guilty I will feel afterwards (big concern). Does it make sense with what you see with your relatives who were or are anorexic?

    coward lurker

  5. I think it took quite a bit of self work for my daughter to allow herself to indulge "coward lurker". (thanks for making me smile)
    Recovery is an art! Practice in baby steps. Switch the guilt to be for when you cheat yourself out of a snack you'd enjoy. Life's too short to be letting an ED rule you. Weight is mostly a clinical definition for anorexia but behavior is a very real indicator that somethings not right and you are wise to recognize it in yourself. Hope you kick ED's butt. I know it's hard to believe but you really can overcome this.

  6. A very interesting piece and SO in turn with what I've come to believe about my daughter's eating disorder which I am sure arose as self-medication for her mood/personality disorder. Prof Iain Campbell of the Institute of Psychiatry in the UK has done some work on hunger and satiety and different responses to it. Here's a link that might be interesting


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