A team of researchers from Switzerland have revealed that stress does actually have a destructive effect on a person’s diet, because it makes people prioritize fast solutions for their problems rather than sticking with healthier long term solutions.
Their test included 51 men who had decided to switch to a healthier diet. Firstly, all 51 subjects were asked to rate a selection of 180 food options in accordance to how much they like them, but also to how healthy they considered them to be.
Secondly, 29 subjects were randomly assigned to the stress test, while the remaining 22 were assigned to be the control group. The people from the stress test were made to place their hands in an ice bath for a period of three minutes, as this procedure is considered to be a effective stress causing measure.
Furthermore, during these three minutes, the subjects were also videotaped and monitored extremely closely, which was also meant to be a stress trigger.
In order to have a clear view and an additional test method to assess the patient’s stress levels, the researchers also conducted a saliva test for cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone.
Thirdly, the study participants were placed in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner and while their brain activity was being measured, they were asked to take several seven minute decision tests that included various pairs of food types, all from the 180 initial images that they were shown, from which they had to choose the one that they preferred at that particular moment.
The subjects who had received the stress stimuli seemed to have a predilection for choosing more less healthy option rather than the healthier ones, in spite of their decision to stick to a healthy diet. The subjects who hadn’t been stressed seem to have a much easier time sticking to their healthy diet goal.
The researchers hypothesized that this was strongly related to the importance that the stressed subjects placed on short term solutions to their stress issues, that seem to be less healthy but much tastier foods in those periods of stress, as corroborated by the fMRI tests. The focused on the fact that eating something tasty would improve their stress situation immediately, at least for a short period of time.
“One very stressful day will most likely not sabotage your diet completely if the stress ends after this day and you return back to your routine of eating a healthy, balanced diet” said University College London’s Molly Crockett in an e-mail to Reuters Health, when she was asked to comment on the Swiss study.
She continued to explain that prolonged stress on the other hand has the potential to severely influence a person’s dietary choices. While self control might intervene in the food choice, the stress clearly adds to the decision.
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