There is increasing evidence that stress may affect health not only through its direct biological effects but also through changes in health behaviors that themselves influence health. Clearly, one such health behavior is food choice: that is, stress may lead to ill health through unhealthy changes in diet as well as more general effects on appetite
Stress and diet associations are particularly complex. Stress is associated with biological changes that might be expected to reduce or increase food intake. Stress in the workplace has been associated with higher energy intake.
Alternatively, there could be significant individual differences in responses to stress, with the study samples varying in the proportions of the different response types.
The importance of individual differences in the eating response to stress has also been borne out by a number of laboratory studies. A consistent pattern is that participants scoring highly on a measure of dietary restraint eat more under stress, whereas intake is the same or lower in unrestrained eaters.
This rather complex pattern of results suggests that more attention needs to be directed toward specifying the nature and intensity of the stress response, and the characteristics and motivational state of the participants (eg, hunger, restraint, and emotional eating tendency). Furthermore, in these studies, usually only a single food type is available, typically high in fat and/or sugar, such as ice cream. Thus, food intake has been conflated with food choice. Understanding which foods are selected or avoided under stress is a crucial issue, both because it is necessary for theoretical interpretation of the mechanisms involved and for prediction of harmful effects of stress on health.
Also of interest is that men in the stressed group ate less than men in the control group. In women there were no significant differences, although stressed women did show a trend toward a modest increase in consumption of sweet and bland foods with no change in intake of salty foods.Participants were tested when they were moderately deprived of food and given a test meal around midday to increase the likelihood of eating beyond brief tasting.
Dietary restraint and emotional eating tendencies were assessed as possible explanatory variables.
Many aspects of reserach literature suggest that women and restrained eaters consume more calories and fat under stress and shift their food choices away from meal-type foods, such as meat and vegetables, toward snack-type foods. In contrast, men and unrestrained eaters show either little difference or a reduction in food intake under stress. Therefore, we hypothesized that stress would elicit greater preference for, and consumption of, highly palatable, snack-type foods, most especially in women and restrained and emotional eaters. In contrast, unrestrained, low emotional eaters (most likely to be men but not always!) were expected to show no change or even a decrease in consumption in response to stress.
Find out much more about this at Greg and Berans Workshop on Saturday the 17th March ….