Stress may drive you to eat more

The busy life of the average adult today will undoubtedly produce common life stressors which could contribute to increased hunger which can become an obstacle for those who are trying to maintain a healthy weight.

A study of 561 women recruited from Northern California found a partial correlation between perceived stress and the drive to eat, specifically for non-nutritious food and a decline in nutritious food intake.

The perception of being highly stressed was also related to an increased lack of control over eating, greater hunger, and more frequent binge eating.

Participants were recruited to complete an online study on “Women’s Health,” and filled out various assessments to measure socio-demographics, height and weight, perceived stress level, chronic stress exposure, binge eating tendencies, and other eating behaviors.

The study discusses the physiological connection in non-human animal tests where, “non-nutritious food has a calming effect on the HPA axis stress response.” The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is an information loop which includes the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands. The main hormones which activate the HPA, include adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) which can increase cortisol levels in the blood.

Long-term activation of the stress-response system and overexposure to cortisol can disrupt almost all of your body’s processes, a MayoClinic article says.

Unfortunately the drive to eat more non-nutritious food, more often, as a response to stress, as indicated in the stress and eating study above, could lead to weight gain.

Dr. Terri Lisagor, EdD, MS, RD, an assistant professor at California State University Northridge who specializes in Food Science and Nutrition, says individuals should ask themselves what they might not be getting enough of in their diet which could lead to an increased hunger response from stress.

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The study was published in the April issue of “Appetite” journal.

Too much on your plate?

Stress may increase binge eating in female college students

If you’ve been juggling too much on your plate only to find yourself adding too much food to your plate, it may be the way you are coping with stress that leads to binge eating.

“People are more likely to binge eat and engage in emotion-focused coping when under stress,” according to research published in Eating Behaviors journal.

The study included 147 female undergraduate students, ages 18 to 25 years old, at a Southeastern university in the United States where researchers used questionnaires to assess students’ coping styles, binge eating frequency and common life stressors. Researchers found that maladaptive coping styles like avoidance (“everything will work out for the best”) and emotional coping (“I feel worthless and unimportant”) were positively associated with stress and significantly associated with binge eating.

The study identifies the relationship between stress, emotional coping and binge eating as being “consistent with a negative reinforcement or ‘escape theory’ of binge eating”. So if you deal with stress by emotionally coping, it might be reinforcing to binge eat because it temporarily relieves negative thoughts and emotions from stress.

The research results emphasize the importance of treatment availability for college females including cognitive behavioral interventions for developing adaptive stress coping techniques. Identifying adaptive solutions to stress may help female students to better cope with stress and avoid potentially harmful behavior of over eating to cope with stress.

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The study was published in the August 2011 issue of Eating Behaviors

For more information check these out:

Dr. Edward Creagan answers “How do I control stress-induced weight gain?” on the Mayo Clinic’s website

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health page on stress

WebMD has a stress management center site and a page for ways to relieve stress