“[E]ating high-calorie foods under stress is a double whammy that drives obesity[,]” says Professor Herbert Herzog, leader of a new study published in the journal Cell Metabolism.
Some of us eat less when stressed, but most of us eat more. To make matters worse, we tend to eat more high-calorie, sugary, and fatty foods. To get further insight into the phenomenon of stress-eating, Herzog and his team performed a study on mice.
Stress makes us get weight faster.
The researchers fed high-calorie food to both stressed mice and un-stressed mice. Notably, the mice who were stressed got obese faster than their un-stressed counterparts, who were fed the same diet.
In both mice and humans, a molecule called NPY is produced by the brain’s amygdala to stimulate eating in times of stress. The researchers had the ability to switch off NPY production in their mouse subjects. When they did this and fed both groups the same high-fat diet, both stressed and un-stressed mice gained weight similarly. This indicated a strong relationship between the NPY molecule, stress, and obesity.
Insulin levels play a key role.
Upon further investigation, the researchers found that the nerve cells responsible for producing NPY also had insulin receptors. You’ve probably heard of insulin – it’s an important hormone that controls how much food we eat. Our bodies produce insulin to absorb glucose and tell our brains to stop eating when we finish a meal.
When put under chronic stress, the mice’s insulin levels increased only slightly. But, when fed high-calorie foods, their insulin levels rose significantly higher. In fact, insulin levels were ten times higher than that in un-stressed mice eating normal diets.
Over time, this spike in insulin caused to nerve cells in the amygdala (the region in the brain that produces NPY) to become desensitized to insulin. This caused more production of NPY, causing more eating.
In other words, when mice are stressed, they eat more…which causes them to eat even more.
Why does this matter?
This study was done on mice, not humans, so researchers will need to do more work to decipher the exact body mechanisms responsible for stress, eating, and obesity.
However, from simply reading this article, you can see that there may be at least one factor you can control that may help with weight issues: stress.
We already know that stress is bad for our health. It can lead to inflammation, weaken your immune system, and even cause cardiovascular health problems, so how can we manage it?
How can I manage stress?
Everyone gets stressed, and stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We all need a deadline here and there to motivate us. This is healthy. But stress can become overwhelming and unhealthy.
While eating junk food to de-stress seems easy, doing so can have serious negative health consequences. So, if you’re stressed – and worried about your eating habits – consider the following:
- Talk to your doctor. If you’re stressed and experiencing health problems like trouble sleeping, ask your doctor about possible underlying health conditions. Getting a clean bill of health through proper diagnosis and treatment is one less stressful thing on your mind!
If affording healthcare is an additional stress for you, visit a community health center or take advantage of nurse hotlines, which are offered by many insurance providers and hospitals. You can also buy international or Canada drugs online, where you can access fully licensed Canadian and International pharmacies offering substantially lower drug prices.
- Identify your stress triggers. Take the time to get as specific as possible. You’re stressed about the upcoming deadline at work, but why? Perhaps it’s because you’re afraid of looking bad in front of your boss.
So tackle this specific problem. You can sit down and explain to your boss why you believe the deadline is realistic. Once your boss is aware of your reasoning – the project is more complex than expected, you had to miss a workday to care for a sick relative – they may be more understanding and inclined to compromise. At the very least, they should respect you more for being upfront, honest, and responsible.
- Learn to say no. Saying no doesn’t necessarily mean you are selfish, lazy, or irresponsible. In fact, it may mean the complete opposite. Saying no allows you to focus on and do better at the obligations you have already accepted. It may also allow someone else the opportunity to say yes and shine.
- Find a time management tool that actually works. It seems like every year, there are a dozen new trendy time management apps. But you don’t need fancy tools to manage time, just habits that work for So, if writing lists, using pen-and-paper agendas, or playing a specific jazz album works for you, by all means, do it! Getting hung up on productivity tools is unnecessary stress!
In conclusion, self-care and stress management may on the surface feel like self-indulgent activities. But in actuality, managing stress can be critical for your health. And you may end up being more productive too!