This is why you eat chocolate when you're stressed
5 Aug 2015

This is why you eat chocolate when you're stressed

2 mins to read
New research suggests that stress is compromising our self-control and causing us to make unhealthy food choices.

You’re feeling stressed and under the pump. You need a snack. Be honest, are you going to choose the apple on your desk or the chocolate bar you know is stashed in your top draw?

In a recently published study, researchers from Switzerland investigated how stress can alter the brain and impair self-control when confronted with a choice.

The study involved 29 participants who underwent a treatment known to induce stress, before they were asked to choose between two food options.

Who stresses you out the most?

An additional 22 participants did not undergo the treatment, which involved being observed and evaluated {…} while immersing a hand in an ice water bath for 3 minutes, before choosing between the food options.

All of the participants who were selected for the study were making an effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle, so the study presented them with a conflict between eating a very tasty but unhealthy item and one that is healthy but less tasty.

What they found was that the group that were in ‘stress treatment’ group were more likely to pick an unhealthy food compared those that were not stressed.

The effects of stress were also visible in the brain. Stressed participants' brains exhibited altered patterns of connectivity between regions {…} essentially reducing individuals' ability to exercise self-control over food choices. Only some of these changes were associated with cortisol, a hormone commonly linked to stress.

Stress- ignore at your peril

"Our findings provide an important step towards understanding the interactions between stress and self-control in the human brain, with the effects of stress operating through multiple neural pathways," says lead author Silvia Maier, of the University of Zurich's Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research.

In addition, as Maier told Reuters, “The more stressed you feel, the less likely you become to override your own taste preferences when we present you with a really tricky challenge, say: your favourite chocolate bar versus a portion of broccoli,”

“You could say it’s almost like stress is turning up the dial on signals about taste, and turning down the signal on health goals,” she said.

What’s the one food you can’t resist when stressed? Tell us in the comments section below.

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