Stress May Affect Food Choices

Stress may contribute to ”emotional eating” – eating foods that are high in fat and calories to cope with stressful situations – according to findings published in the November/December issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

In a study, researchers evaluated 68 participants’ food choices and preferences during stressful and non-stressful events. The participants were then defined as emotional or non-emotional eaters. Half of the participants were randomly placed in the stressed group, and were given 10 minutes to prepare for a 4-minute speech to be read after lunch. Researchers added pressure to the assignment by announcing to participants in the stressed group that they would be filmed and evaluated. The other half of the participants were placed in the non-stressed group, and were told to listen to a presentation after lunch.

Researchers examined the participants’ food choices during lunch, and found that emotional eaters in the stressed group tended to eat more foods high in calories and fat, such as cakes and cookies, than non-emotional eaters in the non-stressed group. Female participants were more likely to be classified as emotional eaters than male participants.

The researchers suggested that foods high in carbohydrates, such as sugary foods, may influence the chemicals in the brain that affect mood. Therefore, emotional eaters who experience stress may be more likely to indulge in sugary foods high in carbohydrates, which are usually high in calories and fat, to cope with their mood.

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