Does Stress make you want to Eat More or Less?
You always hear the stories about what stress can do to people’s eating habits. Many people say that it causes appetite to soar and make any food in sight look appealing. Others will say that it makes your stomach shrink, and even the thought of a small snack is filling. So, what does it actually do? Is it one or the other, or both? And what is the mechanism behind it?
The Side of the Over-Eaters
Many people will say that stress causes overeating and weight gain as a result, with piles of research to support this fact. Harvard Researchers have found that Cortisol, a hormone that is released by the brain when someone experiences stress, is in fact an appetite increaser. Those fatty, sugary foods that everyone turns to in periods of stress are not random either, as chemicals within food seem to mask the effect of stress, making the person feel more relaxed. However, this stress response might not appear in all people.
The researchers at Harvard found that increased weight gain due to stress was more likely in people who had higher levels of the hormone insulin. These high levels of insulin were generally found in people who were already overweight, so maybe this doesn’t affect everyone?
Looking at the Other Side
While many people report an increase in appetite when going through periods of stress, loss of appetite is not uncommon either, with serious stress periods even resulting in extreme loss of appetite seen in eating disorders such as Anorexia.
The response by the body to a stressful event is known as the fight/flight response, an automatic response to situations that seem dangerous or stressful. During, a hormone called adrenaline is released, which curbs appetite. This lack of appetite can then lead onto weight loss due no eating or poor nutrient uptake in the body.
But, as with stress eating, this won’t affect everyone who encounters stress. Studies have found that people who have been controlling their diet before a stressful event or period are more likely to increase restriction on their diet once the stress hormones are released. Such control over the diet may lead to more serious issues, like mental illness.
So, what causes this?
While all previous research has shown that a person could overeat or under eat in reaction to a stressful event or period, the brain mechanism is still unknown, until now. Recent research has found a neurocircuit in mice which when activated causes an decrease of appetite. But when turned off, appetite increased. The two zones in the brain were eating-related and emotion related, hence the ability to create this neurocircuit that links eating habits and the stress response.
Since mice and humans have similar nervous systems, this may just be the key to figuring out how to stop extreme cases of appetite loss in eating disorders like Anorexia.
This new research sheds new light on the stress response affecting eating habits, showing there may just be ways to manipulate the brain into avoiding those affects. So if you’re someone who’s easily affected by stress when it comes to eating, do not fret! New research is just around the corner to help you out. Soon, stress eating may be a thing of the past.