Stress Eating – It’s a thing

Stress eating – it’s a thing. In fact, it is thought that up to 50% of people increase their food intake in response to stress (Sproesser, Schupp, & Renner, 2014). 50%! The idea behind it is that eating is essentially a maladaptive coping mechanism. You want to decrease all of the pressure and tension you are experiencing so you shove your face full of ice cream, cookies, and who knows what else, in hopes that it will make you feel better. Pretty picture, isn’t it? It’s not all bad though, very recent research has found that positive social experiences also influence food consumption – but in a good way.

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The study went something like this; participants came in and were assigned to either the social inclusion, social exclusion or neutral conditions (Sproesser, Schupp, & Renner, 2014). In order to make people feel socially included or excluded, they were told that they would be exchanging video messages with a partner, prior to meeting them in person. After sending a video to their so-called “partner”, they received a reply. Those in the inclusion condition were told that their “partner” was looking forward to meeting them in person, whereas those in the exclusion condition were essentially rejected and told that their partner had absolutely zero interest in ever meeting them. Ouch.

Then for the fun part, the taste test. Each participant was provided with 3 different kinds of ice cream to try, under the premise that their job was to rate which one they liked the best. They were free to eat as much as they wanted in order to make this decision (although taste had nothing to do with it at all, the researchers just wanted to see how much people ate in each condition; social inclusion and social exclusion). Now this is where things get a little bit confusing. Condition did not outright impact consumption (in other words, there was no main effect of being in either the inclusion or exclusion group). However, those in the social exclusion group who also endorsed eating more when stressed consumed greater quantities of ice cream than those who reported eating less in response to stress. After experiencing social inclusion, the habitual stress-eaters actually ate less than those whose habitual consumption decreased with stress (Sproesser, Schupp, & Renner, 2014).

Vanilla Ice Milk

Moral of the story; if you know you are prone to stress eating and want to combat it, surround yourself with people who love and care about you and you are probably less likely to reach for that bag of chips, or whatever your vice happens to be. Putting yourself in positive social situations may help to take your attention off of your appetite and help keep those extra pounds off of your waistline. Plus you get to spend time with friends and family, so it’s a win-win!

Now all of that being said, sometimes nothing is going to stop you from having that extra slice of chocolate cake to help calm your nerves. Frankly, I would say that is perfectly ok as long as you don’t make a habit of using food to solve all of life’s problems. So for times when you absolutely require that chocolate fix, these “stress-eating” recipes are sure to satisfy!

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Flourless Chocolate Torte – dense and rich and chocolatey. I can feel the stress melting away already.

– Sometime a good old bar of dark chocolate is all you need. You can’t go wrong with this or this.

Chocolate pb ice cream cake. With only 5 ingredients, you can have it ready in a flash too!

– Stressed or not, I could almost always go for a lava cake (I know, I know, so 2002). But have you ever tried one with sriracha and buckwheat? I didn’t think so.

– Here’s a guilt-free option for you – vegan chocolate mousse with sweet potato of all things!

Sea salt and chocolate, that’s always an awesome combo.

– Take all of those nasty snack foods you like to munch on and throw them in a cookie. Brownie cookies to be exact.

– More ice cream cake? Why not?

– Nothing says stress eating like chowing down on some brownie batter frosting. With a spoon.

– Oprah know stress eating like no other. How could these chocolate decadent bites possibly disappoint?

References

Sproesser, G., Schupp, H. T., & Renner, B. (2014). The bright side of stress-induced

eating: Eating more when stressed but less when pleased. Psychological

            Science, 25(1), 58-65.

4 thoughts on “Stress Eating – It’s a thing

  • June 26, 2014 at 8:04 am
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    First of all, where can I participate in studies where they compensate you to eat ice cream? Second of all, I love that you’re citing studies in your blog. Good stuff 🙂

    Reply
  • June 30, 2014 at 11:51 am
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    Mal, this is the story of my life. I’m a HUGE stress eater. Hmm…scratch that, I’m an emotional eater. I eat when I’m bored, depressed, stressed, anxious, sad, etc. Lately, I’ve been so stressed at work, I’ve been using it as an excuse to eat all kinds of crap (specialty coffees, bad overpriced baked goods, chocolate bars, ice cream, you name it, I’ve eaten it). Sigh. I agree with Calandra’s comment above – I love that you cited a study in this post. I miss being a student where I actually enjoyed educating myself. Thanks for the knowledg, girl!

    Reply
    • June 30, 2014 at 1:11 pm
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      Thanks Nancy. Isn’t it weird how the more hectic our lives get, the more we get rid of the things that are actually good for us? Food, exercise, you name it. It’s a vicious cycle because it only leaves us feeling worse!

      Reply

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