Anxiety After Eating: Possible Reasons And How To Cope

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated May 14, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Food nourishes your body, gives it energy for the day ahead, and can keep you feeling strong and healthy. Food can also be comforting in times of distress, known as emotional eating. However, there are times when eating may cause stress or anxiety symptoms. If you've experienced anxiety after eating or have had a panic attack related to food, you might feel confused or unsure why it's occurring. Understanding why this emotional response can occur and how to proceed may be beneficial when considering your challenges with food or food related anxiety.

Experiencing anxiety after eating can be frustrating

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of fear, unease, dread, or impending doom that people can experience for various reasons. While experiencing occasional moments of anxiety may be normal, individuals with an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety disorder, feel anxious persistently. An anxiety disorder can cause significant disruptions in daily life. Anxiety disorders are common, and more than 40 million adults in the US are diagnosed with one. 

Possible reasons for anxiety after eating

Thereare a few reasons eating may trigger anxiety. Whether it's a physical reaction related to your gut brain axis, a mental health concern, or something else entirely, it can be valuable to understand the cause behind your feelings so you can treat them. Below are a few common causes of anxiety after eating.

The physical effects of certain foods

One reason you may be feeling anxiety after a meal is because of their physical effects, as certain foods can cause some to experience anxiety symptoms.

In addition, some physical symptoms after consuming food may cause anxiety, such as indigestion. Indigestion or other problems with the digestive system may cause bloating, heartburn, chest pain, acid reflux, or other uncomfortable symptoms, which could contribute to anxiety.

If you are experiencing hypertension or high blood pressure from your diet, you may also experience anxiety due to your increased heart rate.  

Shame or fear surrounding food

Some individuals may experience shame or fear after consuming food. These feelings might arise due to negative past experiences with food or mental health conditions like an eating disorder. For example, suppose a person has distressing memories about choking on a meal, getting food poisoning, or getting into a heated argument while eating in public. In these cases, they may begin feeling anxious about eating due to fear of such an experience happening again. 

In addition, some individuals with social anxiety disorder may experience anxiety after consuming food in front of others. Shame can also be prevalent in individuals with eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorder, which can involve shame surrounding the body. 

Eating disorders

If you are experiencing a crisis related to an eating disorder or would like further resources, contact the ANAD Eating Disorders Helpline at 1-888-375-7767 from Monday through Friday, 9 am to 9 pm CT.

The presence of an eating disorder is one explanation for feelings of anxiety related to foods. There are several eating disorders in the DSM-5, all involving varying degrees of emotional and physical concerns. For instance, for those experiencing symptoms consistent with a binge eating disorder, feelings of anxiety can come from internal guilt or shame following a binge. Those who purge binges by throwing up have symptoms consistent with bulimia nervosa.

For some, these maladaptive habits might develop as a coping mechanism for unsettled surroundings. Consuming excess food, restricting calories, or binging and purging are actions that can be controlled. However, this behavior is often harmful to the individual and can have severe consequences, such as illness or death. 

Over time, these maladaptive eating patterns may lead to serious medical issues such as malnutrition, organ damage, and anemia. Eating disorders are particularly prevalent in teenagers and young adults. The causes of these eating disorders are numerous, and it can be challenging to determine what sparked certain behaviors for certain people. 

If you are experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder, reach out for professional support as soon as possible. Many support options are available for these mental health challenges; you don't have to go through treatment alone. 

Medical concerns

If you have anxiety after eating, a doctor might try to explore and rule out any potential medical concerns. Feelings of anxiety could be warning signs for allergies, specific food intolerance or sensitivities. They could also be related to a condition like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or reactive hypoglycemia, which is often due to low blood sugar and spikes in insulin production after consuming foods high in sugar or processed carbohydrates. Some foods can cause anxiety in certain people because of how they react to the chemicals in the individual's body. However, many people aren't aware of food's effects on their bodies. Once potential medical issues are out of the way, your doctor can begin looking at other possible causes of your anxiety.

How to address anxiety after eating

If you are experiencing anxiety after consuming food, it can feel frustrating, but you are not alone. You can get support, find coping strategies, and address these concerns in numerous ways, including but not limited to the following. 

Speak to a doctor

Before taking extra steps, talking to your doctor about your symptoms may be beneficial. There are many possible reasons for anxiety or uncomfortable feelings, so ensuring you're not experiencing a physical illness can help you stay safe. Your doctor can assist you in developing the proper treatment plan, and they might refer you to another professional depending on your situation. 

Try self-care for anxiety

In addition to seeing a doctor, if you are experiencing severe anxiety levels or panic attacks, consider taking steps to reduce these symptoms and calm your nervous system. Self-care can include the following activities: 

  • Meditating
  • Yoga 
  • Mindfulness
  • Spending time in nature
  • Journaling
  • Avoiding substance use 
  • Practicing sleep hygiene

The methods that work for one person in managing their anxiety may not work for someone else. You might have to try a few different techniques before you find the ones that are best for you. 

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

Seek a therapist 

Talking to a licensed therapist might also help you unpack the mental and emotional concerns around anxiety after eating and find ways to address them with professional support. Your therapist may have you start keeping a food diary to log what you eat and how it makes you feel. In many cases, your therapist may use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is widely considered to be an effective method of treatment for eating disorders. CBT addresses underlying misconceptions or unwanted thought patterns, such as negative thoughts about food, your body, or eating.  

Individuals with anxiety may find some parts of seeking therapy intimidating, such as commuting to a new place, waiting in a busy office, or interacting with new people. With online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp, you can match with a therapist online and have therapy sessions from the comfort of your home or wherever you have an internet connection. Being able to meet with a therapist in a safe, controlled environment may help you feel more comfortable talking about your symptoms. 

In addition, research has shown that online interventions can be as effective as in-person options. For example, one study analyzed the effectiveness of online treatment for common mental health disorders, including anxiety and eating disorders. Researchers found that these online interventions successfully reduced symptoms and were effective after treatment overall.

Experiencing anxiety after eating can be frustrating

Takeaway

There are several reasons an individual might experience anxiety after eating, such as the physical effects of certain foods, anxiety eating in front of others due to social anxiety disorder, the presence of an eating disorder, or a medical concern. If you're experiencing this symptom, consider discussing your concerns with your doctor. For further support in addressing anxiety, you can reach out to a therapist online or in your area at any time.

Healing from eating disorders is possible
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