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11 Extra Pounds a Year — That’s How Much Stress Eating Could Pack On

File this under certainly knowing how to take the “comfort” out of comfort food.

It appears that experiencing one or more stressful events the day before eating only a single meal that’s high in fat — which is the kind in which we are most prone to indulge when stressed — can slow the body’s metabolism so much that women could experience an 11-pound weight gain over the course of a year, according to a study published in the  Biological Psychiatry Journal.

The study’s participants included 58 healthy American women, 38 of whom were breast cancer survivors & 20 of whom were demographically similar. The average age of participants was 53. Spanning just two visits with the research team, participants were given either a meal high in saturated fat, the “bad fat,” or a meal high in sunflower oil, a monounsaturated fat that is associated with several health benefits. The meal itself was a doozie: 930 calories and 60 grams of fat — about the same as a double-decker burger with a side of medium french fries. The researchers utilized standardized clinical tools to rank stressors and to assess any sign of depressive disorder.

Women are prone to tack on an extra 11 pounds per year as a result of stress eating.

Women are prone to tack on an extra 11 pounds per year as a result of stress eating.

After the participants indulged, their metabolic rate, or the efficiency with which these women were burning calories and fat, was measured. Blood sugar levels, triglycerides, insulin and the stress hormone cortisol were also measured.

On average, results showed that study participants who noted one or more stressors, like arguments with co-workers or significant others, dischord with friends, problems with children or work-related stress, during the previous 24 hours burned 104 fewer calories than the non-stressed women in the seven hours after eating the high-bad-fat meal.

That difference, say researchers, could likely result in an 11 pound weight gain in just one calendar year. They also experienced less fat oxidation where so-called large fat molecules get converted into smaller molecules which are then used as fuel.

“The question we’re asking is whether stress affects metabolism, and I was so surprised at the magnitude of the effect,” said Dr. Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study.

It’s not a secret that stress will make many of us resort to these high-fat-high-sugar comfort foods. Other studies show that people who experience stress and other disruptive moods are at an even higher risk of obesity. The main reason is not indulgence, but overindulgence on these high-fat, high-calorie comfort foods.

“We are aware from other data that we’re more likely to consume the wrong foods during the times when we’re stressed, and our data says that when we eat those wrong foods, weight gain is much more likely because we end up burning fewer calories,” said Kiecolt-Glaser.

Researchers found that a history of depression by itself did not measurably affect metabolic rate, but depression combined with previous stressors led to a more drastic immediate rise in a dangerous form of fat called triglycerides. Excessive triglyceride levels are a prime risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Still, how stress makes us pack on the pounds is certainly a complicated and poorly understood process. “The relationship among stress and eating is very complex from a biological standpoint as well as from a psychosocial view, and there’s simply no clear pathway that explains all that is happening,” said Dr. Leslie Heinberg, who serves as the Director of Behavioral Services for the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute of the Cleveland Clinic. “But what this study does is give us loads more information on other possible pathways.”

The study was small and there are admittedly limitations. “This was an extremely controlled, one-time experiment, and I think that the 11 pounds per year might go beyond some of the data,” she said, since people might compensate for their indulgences at later meals in the real world. Further, self-reported stressors can be murky, despite efforts to manage the differences between perhaps the anxiety of having to give a speech or having a spat with a loved one. Still another complication was the fact that the majority of study participants were breast cancer survivors, which adds even more stress.

Obesity is still at epidemic levels both here in the U.S. and abroad.  And it doesn’t help that we as humans “. . . are biologically programmed to put on and keep on weight.  Even with diets, exercise or surgery, we are fighting a massive biological tide,” said Heinberg.

“What this study and other lab studies have shown is that there is so much more to obesity than simply a lack of willpower; it’s a very complex biological problem.”

If you’re looking for a bright side, iTrain Fitness’s lead trainer Amanda Maybroda says that the impact of stress is a small fraction of the picture: Most weight gain is caused by overeating, plain and simple.

“The good news is that the 100 calories a day extra can easily be offset by a brisk 30 minute walk,” she said. “This means the difference between weight stability and weight gain.”

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Aman Saxena


30 Dec, 2016

fitness news,  Free Style