Friday, 24 June 2011

Why Stress Leads To Comfort Eating

If you find yourself eating more when you’re under pressure or feeling stressed, you’re not alone. Around 40 percent of people under stress automatically feel hungrier and are more inclined to start overeating. And naturally, it’s more likely to be high fat and sugar foods rather than lettuce leaves. This isn’t ideal if you’re trying to maintain or lose weight.

A study (on mice) by U.S. researchers from the University of Texas, has narrowed this reaction down to the hormone, ghrelin, which is responsible for stimulating the appetite. Two types of mice were induced into a stressed state by a ‘bully’ mouse which is a more dominant type of mouse.

Scientists found that wild-type mice headed towards a chamber they knew contained mouse ‘comfort food’, while the genetically-engineered mice, who were unable to respond to stress-induced increases in ghrelin, didn’t head off to the same chamber in search of this comfort food. Even when they were deliberately given fatty, comfort food, they didn’t each as much as the wild-type mice.

Dr. Jeffrey Zigman, assistant professor of internal medicine and psychiatry, said: "Our findings show that ghrelin signaling is crucial to this particular behavior and that the increase in ghrelin which occurs as a result of chronic stress is probably behind these food-reward behaviors."

He also said: “Many people when stressed turn to high calorie ‘comfort foods’.”

It’s not bad news for all stressed out dieters though, as not everyone reacts to stress in the same way. There are still another 60 percent of people who don’t automatically reach for cakes and biscuits when they become stressed. And if you are one of the 40 percent who find themselves yearning for comfort food in times of anxiety, why not try chewing some sugar free gum? This act of chewing can help get you through the most crucial time until you’re feeling a bit calmer.

The results from this study were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center (2011, June 23). Ghrelin likely involved in why we choose 'comfort foods' when stressed. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 24, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/06/110623130336.htm


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