We’ve all done it. Maybe there’s a deadline looming over your head and you can only find solace by shoveling food into your mouth. Except, according to a new study, stress-eating doesn’t make food taste better, and more importantly, there’s evidence that stress doesn’t even make you hungry in the first place.
A 2014 study on stress-eating found that the ravenous act (and the tummy ache that usually comes with it) doesn’t actually feel better. A treat at the end of a hard day of work tastes the same as a treat after a terrific day at the job. Research subjects who had been stressed-out didn’t find any extra enjoyment in the smell of chocolate as subjects who’d had it easy.
If benefits of stress-eating were already suspect after that study, the new one, which was published in the journal Biological Psychology, threatens to blow apart the entire concept, as it found that stress doesn’t whet people’s appetites in the first place.
The researchers gathered 59 volunteers who gave frequent updates about their mood and eating habits for ten days, five times a day. The subjects used an app to report on how they were feeling and what they’d eaten since their last update, specifying if it was a meal or a snack, and under what circumstances they’d consumed it — were they hungry, or did they just want to taste something?
At the end of the study, researchers found that subjects who reported feeling stressed didn’t eat more than normal — or if they did, they didn’t attribute their change in dining habits to stress. Subjects who said that they weren’t very emotional eaters actually ate less when they were down in the dumps.
Emotions, according to this study, don’t make people hungry. However, positive emotions did lead to increased consumption because the subjects wanted to taste something, rather than because they were feeling hungry. This link seems to be due, at least in part, to circumstance. If subjects were feeling good about an office birthday, well, sure they’ll have a slice of that celebratory cake. Food is just a cultural component of good times.
Stress-eating, it would seem, is just eating, since emotions don’t play a part in how hungry we are. And that’s stressing me out.