We always had a sneaking suspicion that stress caused people to reach for pastries and chocolate. If you’ve ever felt the pressure of the day drift away as you tucked into a packet of high calorie biscuits, you’ll understand the concept. Nonetheless, on such an occasion, you may have made a poor food choice because your brain and body understood that you would produce feel-good chemicals if you indulged. This recent study, however, makes it clear that reward isn’t the only issue at hand; stress can lower your ability to control your behavior.
The results of the research probably shouldn’t seem surprising, given that it’s understood stressed people sometimes show other signs of a lack of control. People with road rage, and irritated, snappy individuals, usually act-up because they feel down. The study that supports the concept that overeating can relate to anxiety, involved participants placing their hands in icy water for a short while as they were monitored. Afterward, they were given a variety of foods from which to make a selection. It was found that those who didn’t undergo the stressful icy water experience in the group made far less unhealthy choices compared to those exposed to anxiety. Brain scans reinforced these findings, since the anxious subjects showed altered brain patterns in regions associated with self-control.
Those of you who want to lose weight might find the knowledge that people have less ability to regulate food choices after encountering stress useful. Since, you can padlock your sweet drawer or pastry cupboard without feeling guilty; your lack of control might not be a matter of willpower, and instead may be put down to how your brain works. The best way to use this information though, might be to keep a diary in which you note whether your eating behavior matches the stress you face. Identifying that you snack when you are anxious means you can benefit from learning how to reduce or cut out stress to aid weight loss. Instead of counting calories, perhaps you just need to meditate or go for a relaxing walk in the countryside. Additionally, you can strengthen your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for self-regulation, in other ways. Re-learning how to delay gratification, taking up physical exercise, and getting better nutrition and satisfactory sleep could make a difference to how easy it is to control your eating habits.