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Stress Eating Isn’t Just More Calories—It Changes Your Metabolism, Too
It’s no secret that stress affects what you eat and how much you weigh. When people are stressed, they tend to reach for high-fat junk food, so picking up a McDonald’s combo, pizza pie, or tub of ice cream is no isolated incident.
When people are stressed and feeling down they crave these kinds of food. The craving is three-fold: you want a comforting taste, a little treat and freedom from your current situation, and you want to feel good (meaning less stress). But the connection between what you crave and what you eat isn’t without basis—that is you don’t eat junk food just because it tastes good. These foods also generate chemical and hormonal effects: the sugar releases serotonin, a feel-good chemical that boosts your mood, while the carbs release hormones to battle cortisol, the stress hormone.
But overall, eating is not a good way to combat stress as it can have negative long-term effects on your weight and health.
A group of researchers from Ohio State University recently took a look at exactly how stress impacts digestion and they came across some very interesting results. They asked 53 women (at an average age of 58) if anything had stressed them out the day before. After the question period, each of the women ate a meal of eggs, turkey sausage, biscuits, and gravy totaling 930 calories and 60 grams of fat (about the same as a fast food combo).
Before and after the meal, metabolic rates and blood samples were taken. The women who reported more stressors from the previous day (e.g., arguing with a boss or loved one, or job pressures) burned 104 fewer calories in the seven-hour period following the meal compared to the women who reported no stressors. It may not seem like a lot, but it can add up fast. If you’re prone to stress, according to these results, stress eating could result in an additional 11 pounds per year.
The most interesting part of this study is that it shows stress actually alters your metabolism and the way you burn and retain calories. The women who reported stressful experiences also burned less fat, while showing increased levels of insulin in their blood. Insulin is a hormone related to sugar absorption and is great at storing calories as fat instead of using them for fuel.
Although this study is interesting, it also presents some concerns.
First off, the study was very small and limited; the sample group comprised only women and there were only 53 participants. Also, it’s unclear if the findings would be consistent for men, both because they were not tested and because they tend to have more muscle mass than women, which increases metabolism.
In any event, stress eating isn’t a good thing. If you are a stress eater, it could be costing you your health, instead increasing your waistline and your risk of diseases that come along with weight gain.
So next time you find yourself stressed, instead of reaching for an unhealthy snack, look for a whole grain, complex carbohydrate that will release serotonin while providing useful calories!
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