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.

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