enjoy your food daily,doctor says you are going to live long only with it

By Live Dr - Fri Feb 13, 1:59 pm

The Stress Diet: Another Helping, Please

Buffet of foodComfort for the stressed? (Credit: Peter DaSilva for The New York Times)

What makes you go on eating binges? What makes calories of carbs and fat so appealing when you’re in the mood for “comfort food”?

There may be as many answers as the number of potato chips in the last bag I polished off. But let’s consider the factor explored in my Findings column on the link between stress and junk food. Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center found that low-status female monkeys couldn’t resist loading up on sugary, high-fat food and kept eating it into the night, whereas the dominant monkeys weren’t nearly so tempted by the treats. The subordinate monkeys, who had higher levels of stress hormones in their body, apparently found some sort of comfort in the high-calorie foods.

It would be simplistic to conclude that this is the grand explanation for higher rates of obesity among humans of lower socioeconomic status. People respond to stress and foods in complicated ways. Some C.E.O.’s are a lot more stressed-out than blue-collar workers; not all people react to stress by eating comfort foods. But the results from the monkey study do suggest that there’s some truth in the notion that stress leads to eating binges. As the lead author, Mark Wilson of Emory University, told me, “While there are many causes for obesity, these data suggest that individuals exposed to adverse social situations may be at risk for excess food consumption and developing obesity.”

Studies with humans have shown that dieters are particularly prone to binge once they give in to the first forbidden bite. As I mentioned in the column, Debra Zellner of Montclair State University found that women were more likely than men to eat M&Ms when under stress, a disparity she attributes to more of the women being “restrained eaters” — i.e., on a diet.

In Dr. Zellner’s experiment, some of the subjects were put under stress by being given insoluble anagrams, whereas others were given anagrams that could be unscrambled. The women were more likely to go for the M&Ms when they were stuck with the impossible puzzles, whereas the men were more likely to eat them after getting through a solvable anagram. Dr. Zellner told me:

We concluded that what the men were doing was rewarding themselves in the easy-anagram condition for being so clever. Since men are not restrained eaters they might think that the chips and M&Ms are “unhealthy” but they don’t care. They will eat them because they like them and they deserve them after solving the problems so fast.

I’m curious to hear why you do — or don’t — binge on junk food. What impact does being a diet, or being under stress, have on your eating habits?

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