How stress it makes us crave junk food

Comfort food did not get the title by acci­dent. Many of us are aware we are stressed. Most of us are try­ing to con­trol weight gain by eat­ing bet­ter and mak­ing bet­ter choices, which can be very dif­fi­cult when eat­ing some­thing that we like makes us tem­por­ar­ily feel bet­ter in the short-term. Then settles in the guilt…and you’re back to square one.

The truth is that stress (wheth­er per­ceived or an imme­di­ate crisis) does change the cor­tex and its abil­ity to modi­fy food crav­ings from the top-down.

Stress affects health dir­ectly in the hypothalamus

In human evol­u­tion, not hav­ing food has been a big deal. Not so much in the mod­ern world, but sadly Third World coun­tries know all too well about food depriva­tion and the feel­ing of an empty stom­ach. Our brain has areas that are respons­ible for identi­fy­ing when we need food for energy and to keep our body func­tion­ing, and when we do not (also called sati­ety, or the feel­ing of being full).

Dr. Jaideep Bains at the University of Calgary has stud­ied the hypo­thal­am­us, an area in the brain asso­ci­ated with reg­u­la­tion of tem­per­at­ure, meta­bol­ism, appet­ite, and also is deeply involved in the per­cep­tion of stress. Hormonal response to stresses (like cortisol) are dir­ectly con­trolled by the hypo­thal­am­us that sends out sig­nals so the brain needs food because from an evol­u­tion­ary per­spect­ive, without food, we starve. So the blanket word “I’m just stressed” might have more impact than you know.

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