How Does Stress Affect Appetite?

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 28 September 2016

How Does Stress Affect Appetite?

First off I chose this topic because of personal experiences. At times when I was stress I noticed that I would have an increase in appetite. I first asked myself, is stress reliable for most weight gain in individuals? But I found that question too complex to answer in a short amount of time. After looking over my resources, I noticed that the studies had a focus on gender or food choice of stressed individuals. So in this paper I have a focus on gender and food choice. I hypothesize that women will be more likely to eat sweet foods and to be more stressed than men. Stress is that uneasy emotion or feeling that has you feeling blue, down, sad, and depressed-like. Most people experience some type of stress at some point in their life. In stressful situations your brain will signal the adrenal glands to release a hormone. That hormone is called cortisol. Cortisol releases glucose and fatty acids into the bloodstream to provide energy to the muscles.

When you have high cortisol levels, appetite increases as well as the fat deposits made. A lot of this weight will settle in the trunk, cervical, or abdomen area of the stressed person. You will also begin to crave foods that contain high calories and few nutrients, which are not healthy. Stress causes the body to burn more vitamins and minerals. Some of those burned are magnesium, vitamin B and zinc. These vitamins are needed to balance blood sugar, a downfall in these levels cause and increase in stress. The adrenal glands require more vitamin C and pantothenic acid during stress. This vitamin is also part of the vitamin B complex. (Tice)

When stressed it seems impossible to sleep but sleep deprivation affects blood sugar levels by increasing cortisol and reducing the production of leptin. This will cause you eat more and become an emotional eater instead of being physically hungry. The lack of exercise will cause cortisol levels to be high as well. Stress can affect you appetite in a three ways. You can have a loss of appetite, an increase in appetite which causes you to overeat, or a mixture of both. Those who overeat are most likely to be emotional eaters.

Emotional eating is when a person eats for reasons such as emotional upheavals, rather than for hunger itself. (Paul M.) The definition for emotional eating is indulging in an excessive intake of food. (Paul M.) Those who restrict their intake of food are called restrictive eater. But in this paper I focus on those who are emotional eaters and or overeat. Foods that are eaten during stress are often referred to as junk food or comfort foods. Although they may not be healthy they make the feelings of stress go away temporarily.

Stress and Food Choice: A Laboratory Study

The first study I looked at was focused on the food choice that individuals chose during stressful times. Their initial question is whether or not acute stress alters food choice during a meal. This study was also designed to test claims of selective effects of stress on appetite for specific sensory and nutritional categories of food and interactions with eating attitudes. Three categories of the food types were sweet, salty and bland. Twenty seven men and forty one women volunteered for this study. They were all nonsmokers and ages range between 18 and 46. They were also paid seven dollars to complete the study. They were allocated to either a stress or controlled conditions during which they were provided with a buffet lunch. For stress manipulation, the tested group was told that they had to prepare a 4 minute speech performance that would be recorded, with only ten minutes to prepare.

This would occur right after eating the buffet. This speech performance task was not mention to the control group. Instead they were told to read over a passage while listening to music. Music is found to be calming and soothing. Blood pressure and heart rate were measured and the participants did a self-report of mood measure. This measure was on arrival and after the 10 minute stress induction. At the beginning they were asked to rate hunger level on scale 1 to 7. At the end they were to rate the perceived stressfulness on a scale of 1 to 7.

Two measures to assess the effect of the stress manipulation on eating behavior and food choice were the food intake during a meal and appetite for a range of foods immediately before eating the meal. For food intake, the participants were allowed to eat freely for 15 minutes from a buffet lunch. For appetite ratings, the participants were presented with photos of food and asked “how much do you fancy eating some of this food at the moment?” and indicated their response on a scale from 1 to 7. ————————————————-

The results were that increases in blood pressure and changes in mood showed the effectiveness of the stressor. Stress did not alter overall intake or appetite for the food categories. Stressed emotional eaters ate more sweet high fat foods and a more energy dense meal than unstressed and non-emotional eaters. Women scored higher than men on the emotional eating scale as expected. Men ate significantly more bland and salty foods than women. Just with this one study it does show that stress can alter food choice and intake of food. There isn’t a big gender difference but it was determined that women are more likely to be emotional eaters. This was a small study so that could be a possible limitation. There is evidence that snack consumption may be more susceptible to stress than meals. Most stressed individuals prefer to snack instead of meals but also because of small energy dense snacks are more easily ingested and digested when gut activity is suppressed by sympathetic arousal. (Georgina) ————————————————-

There are no significant differences between genders when it comes to stress. There is belief that women experience more stress than men. Some research suggests that in stress coping behavior, men are more likely to turn to alcohol or smoking and that women turn to food. (Harvard) A study showed that out of 5,000 obese men and women, women’s obesity was stress related eating but not for men. (Harvard) Although there is a high weight gain for both sexes, it is higher in men.

The Effects of Stress on Food Choice, Mood and Bodyweight in Healthy Women This source examined the effects of stress on the neuroendocrine production of cortisol and links it to potential changes in food choice, bodyweight and mood. (Roberts) Stressful situations can cause you to have a lower mood, increased energy intake such as fatty acids and non-milk extrinsic sugars and bodyweight to go up and down. This study looked a 71 healthy women in their forties.

The end result they found that there is an increase in cortisol secretion during a period of chronic stress to be strongly correlated with changes in food choice and increased energy consumption, as well as an increase in intake of saturated fatty acids and NMES. (Roberts) This then led to an increase in bodyweight. During the stress period there was an increase of depression and anxiety but there was no we could find no correlation with mood, food choice or energy intake. This study also found that women with a body mass index (BMI) on the higher side of ‘healthy’, who experienced a significant increase in cortisol secretion under chronic stress, were more vulnerable to increases in bodyweight than women with lower BMIs and a smaller increase in cortisol secretion. (Roberts)

I definitely agree with women eating more sweets when stressed. Every time I am under stress I eat sweets and must have a soda with it. Even though I may have had a meal an hour before hand I still crave it. Seems very interesting how our bodies respond to stress. I believe this has a permanent effect on the body. Once you become under stress for a period of time and consistently eat, I believe that the bad habit of being an emotional eater is hard to break. I have found it hard to break. According to my research stress does have an effect on appetite and it does alter food choices. Most men prefer salty or bland foods and women prefer sweets. There isn’t much gender differences but women seem to have more effect of stress than men.

Birmingham, K. (2006). Effect of Stress on Eating Habits. Effect of Stress on Eating Habits. Retrieved November 5, 2012, from D. (2010, September). Stresshacker. Stresshacker. Retrieved November 6, 2012, from Epel, E., Lapidus, R., McEwen, B., & Brownell, K. (2000, June 21). Stress May Add Bite to Appetite in Women: A Laboratory Study of Stress Induced Cortisol and Eating Behavior. Retrieved December 1, 2012, from Georgina, O., Wardle, J., & Gibson, L. (1999, October 18). Psychosomatic Medicine. Stress and Food Choice: A Laboratory Study. Retrieved November 20, 2012, from Harvard Health.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 28 September 2016

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