Diet and Nutrition

Stress Can Lead to Binge Eating

Stress Can Lead to Binge Eating

According to a new survey presented at the annual meeting of American Psychological Association, people tend to overeat at the time of stress. The study conducted under the leadership of Kayla Ten Eycke, MSc, of the department of psychology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, shows that people tend to eat more junk food and high-calorie food when under stress. According to her, eating a piece of chocolate cake occasionally may reduce the chances of binge eating an entire chocolate cake.

Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, a senior scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, agrees with the result. She cautions that a survey is not a scientific proof that the choice of food is influenced by dieting during stressful times. If a person is always dieting, when stress strikes, one might just want to eat anything that they can lay their hands on. “A more balanced person may not use stress as an excuse to snack on something they like and would stick to healthy eating habits," says Lichtenstein.  

Eycke remarks that it is the biological and psychological changes associated with stress that influences the choice of food. In her study, she recruited 158 volunteers to find out more about the choice of food. 

  • About 20% of the participants had the same amount of food when they were stressed and when they were relaxed. Out of the total, 40% reported that they had less than usual while 40% agreed that they had more during stressful periods.
  • Participants who ate more during stress, known as stress eaters, were more likely to be on diet for more than two weeks when compared to those who ate less than usual when stressed (stress under-eaters).
  • When compared to stress under-eaters, stress overeaters had wider hips, and had more body weight on an average.
  • All the participants had foods that had more calories, fat, salt, carbohydrates, and sugar during stress.

Eycke points out that people prefer to have unhealthy food while they are under some sort of stress. Stress overeaters had more unhealthy foods when under stress compared to stress under-eaters. Almost all the stress overeaters in the study reported that they preferred to have chocolates, candy or other sweets when under stress, when compared to the under-eaters. 40% of the under-eaters preferred to have fruits, vegetables and cheese during stress when compared to 2% of the stress overeaters who had the same food preference.