Chew on This

Does stress really cause us to snack more and eat more sweets?

Does uncertainty increase sweet and treat consumption? I think most of us would say yes. We are probably basing this on our own reactions to uncertain or stressful situations. But does science support this belief?

Sheah Rarback.jpg
Sheah Rarback

A research article in the September 2018 issue of Appetite (yes, there is a journal called Appetite) tackled this question. One hundred eighty two students at Texas Tech participated in a study.

They were divided into three groups. One group was told they were giving a speech, the second was told they would listen and rate the speech and the third was told the assignment sheet had been left in another room and they would not know if they were or were not giving a speech. While waiting for the speeches, subjects were asked to participate in a second study rating M&Ms. They were allowed to eat as many M&Ms as they wanted and then asked to fill out a questionnaire.

Here is the interesting finding: Participants who typically reported good control over their eating ate more in the uncertain speech condition than if they were or were not giving a speech. Participants who reported poor control over their eating did not eat significantly more when uncertain. These were college students, so we can’t generalize to other populations.

It probably isn’t possible to control or eliminate all uncertainty in our lives. And this study suggests that people who usually are able to control their eating might succumb to eating more during times of uncertainty.

My take is don’t beat yourself up as this is a fairly typical reaction to uncertainty. Have available nutritious snacks for stressful times. Pistachios are a good choice since they keep your hands busy and then reward you with a delicious treat. Berries in yogurt feed the brain and gut. Try nonfood stress relievers such as a walk, meditation, listening to music.

Whoever said “Life is uncertain, eat dessert first” knew what they were talking about.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.