Comfort food + stress may equal weight gain

Watching what you eat when under stress is important because that’s when some people increase their intact of comfort foods, leading to more weight gain.

That’s the conclusion of a study published in the journal Cell Metabolism in late April by a team from the Eating Disorders laboratory at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, in Darlinghurst, Australia.

Their study, also reported by EurekAlert, the online publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, found in an animal model that a high calorie diet when combined with stress results in more weight gain than the same diet in a stress-free environment.

“The study indicates that we have to be much more conscious about what we’re eating when we’re stressed, to avoid a faster development of obesity,” said Professor Herbert Herzog, head of the institute’s eating disorders laboratory.

While some people eat less under stress, most increase their food intake, including the intake of calorie-dense foods high in sugar and fat.

To learn what controls such “stress eating,” researchers looked at different areas of the brain in mice While food intake is mainly controlled by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, it is another part of the grain, the amygdala, that processes emotional responses including anxiety.


They found that when high calorie food was available over an extended period of stress that the mice became obese quicker than those consuming the same high fat food in a stress-free atmosphere. The key was a molecule called NPY, which the brain produces naturally in response to stress to stimulate eating in humans, as well as mice.

They discovered that when we switched off the production of NPY in the amygdala weight gain

Was reduced. Without NPY, weight gain on a high-fat diet with stress was the same as weight gain in the stress-free environment, researchers said.

Researchers analyzed the nerve cells that produced NPY in the amygdala and found they had receptors, or docking stations, for insulin, one of the hormones that controls food intake.

Under normal conditions, the human body produces insulin after a meal, helping cells absorb glucose from the blood and sending a “stop eating” signal to the hypothalamus feeding center of the brain.

Researchers found that chronic high insulin levels driven by stress and a high-calorie diet promoted more eating.

“This really reinforced the idea that while it’s ad to eat junk food, eating high-calorie foods under stress is a double whammy that drives obesity,” Herzog said.