Share on PinterestDuring periods of stress, individuals often crave high-fat and sugary comfort foods. d3sign/Getty Images
- A recent study reveals that when stress is combined with the consumption of high-calorie ‘comfort’ food, it can prompt brain alterations that lead to increased eating and intensified cravings for tasty food.
- These categories of food stimulate the brain’s reward center. While these foods may provide immediate relief and pleasure, they can also establish an unhealthy connection between stress and the consumption of unhealthy foods.
- Stress results in physiological and behavioral modifications that can contribute to weight gain. These changes encompass reduced physical activity, hormonal fluctuations, emotional eating, and disturbances in sleep.
During times of heightened stress, many individuals consume more food than usual, known as “stress eating.” While occasional indulgence is acceptable, it can become problematic if food frequently becomes a source of comfort in response to stress.
According to a study published on June 8 in the journal Neuron, stress combined with high-calorie ‘comfort’ food leads to brain alterations that promote increased eating and cravings for sweet, fulfilling food. Over time, this can result in weight gain.
Researchers from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research discovered that stress disrupts the brain’s typical response to satiety, leading to continuous activation of reward signals that drive the consumption of more palatable foods.
“We demonstrated that chronic stress, in conjunction with a high-calorie diet, can stimulate greater food intake as well as a preference for sweet, highly satisfying food, thereby fostering weight gain and obesity. This research highlights the importance of maintaining a healthy diet during times of stress,” stated Professor Herbert Herzog, senior author of the study and Visiting Scientist at the Garvan Institute, in a news release.
Stress causes physiological and behavioral changes that can lead to weight gain.
“Stress keeps your body in survival mode, which means that it will instinctively act to keep you safe,” explained Uys.
During periods of heightened stress, the following changes can occur, according to Uys:
When it comes to stress and weight gain, cortisol is the main driving factor.
“Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released when an individual is under stress or experiencing difficult times,” explained Seti. “It is released into the body and causes an increased heart rate, perspiration, elevated blood sugar and blood pressure, muscle tension, as well as heightened respiration and hyperventilation. While this hormone can be beneficial in critical situations, such as when the body perceives a threat, it can also be produced and released during panic attacks and anxiety issues, leading to the hormone’s effects occurring even without any actual stress.”
In addition, cortisol triggers the emotional region of the brain, resulting in enjoyable activities, such as eating, becoming even more pleasurable.
“This notion of eating becoming more pleasurable can make it easier to overeat,” stated Seti. “When someone discovers that overeating provides temporary comfort, they are more likely to develop a habit of continuously overeating whenever they experience stress, which can ultimately lead to weight gain and difficulties in losing weight.”
Cortisol can also impact weight in another way: it can actually increase the accumulation of fat deposits throughout the body, typically in the abdominal area and stomach, added Seti.
According to recent research, stress combined with the consumption of high-calorie ‘comfort’ food can cause brain changes that result in increased eating and intensified cravings for tasty food.
Consuming high-calorie ‘comfort’ foods stimulates the brain’s reward center. While these foods may offer temporary relief and pleasure, they can also establish an unhealthy connection between stress and the consumption of unhealthy foods.
Chronic stress can contribute to physiological and behavioral changes that result in weight gain. These changes encompass hormonal fluctuations, emotional eating, reduced physical activity, and disturbances in sleep.