Craving Calorie-Dense Foods? Could Be Stress
Are you craving calorie-dense foods? It could be related to stress. Researchers from Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia found that stress overrides that part of the brain that signals satiety or the sense of feeling full. Chronic stress sparks alterations of brain activity that boost cravings for sweets and junk food.
Stress overrides the brain’s natural ability to balance energy needs. And, the problem is this. There are times when we all experience an excess amount of stress putting all of us at risk for engaging in unhealthy eating.
Stress and Emotional Eating
Chronic stress affects the lateral habenula of the brain. The lateral habenula influences the brain’s response to pain, stress, anxiety, sleep, and reward. The lateral habenula normally switches off the brain’s reward response. Chronic stress causes the lateral habenula to be silent or inactive allowing the reward signals to stay active and encourage eating for pleasure.
Researchers from the Garvin Institute of Medical Research conducted their study on mice. Some of the mice were stressed and fed a high-fat diet and gained twice as much weight as non-stressed mice which also were fed a high-fat diet. A high-fat diet is an example of calorie-dense foods.
Researchers determined that neuropeptide Y or NPY, a molecule, was the core cause of the weight gain. NPY is produced by the brain in the response to stress. When the researchers blocked the formation of NPY in stressed mice on the high-fat diet, the animals gained less weight.
The study is found in the journal of Neuron.
Another interesting finding from this study on mice is this. Stressed mice on a high-fat diet preferred sweeten water with sucralose over plain water. Stressed mice consumed three times as much Sucralose than the non-stressed mice on the high-fat diet. This suggests that stress triggers cravings for sweet, palatable food.
While some humans eat less when stress, many eat more and engage in emotional eating. They eat more high-fat and high sugar meals which are calorie-dense foods.And, a take home point of the study is that stress can compromise an otherwise healthy metabolism. Take efforts to minimize a stressful lifestyle. Also, when you are stress take note of your eating habits and try to continue to eat a healthy diet.
Avoid the calorie-dense foods. Develop strategies (like exercise) to minimize the effects of stress. Don’t buy unhealthy foods thinking you are not going to eat them. If you buy them, you will eat them. Be more diligent with your grocery shopping during periods of excess stress.