Why Stress and High Fat Foods Don’t Mix

Stressed and reaching deep into that bag of Oreos? It’s tempting, I know from experience first-hand, but that combination of stress and poor nutrition can really impact your health in a bad way. Rid your cupboards of the junk!

There has been a great deal of research showing how the quality of your diet can be detrimental to how healthy you are in the long run. The same can be said for the effects that stress can have on your risk for developing diseases. Common ones that can be spurred by stress levels are heart disease, diabetes, depression, obesity and stroke.

Recent new evidence further explains the direct link between diet and stress. Women who eat a diet higher in saturated fat and simple sugars have a higher chance of developing diseases like diabetes and metabolic syndrome if they experience chronic stress. The study, published in the April issue of Psychoneuroendocrinology, looked at 33 women who were post-menopausal, full-time caregivers compared to a control group of 28 women equally matched who were not stressed. The caregivers had been looking after a spouse or parent with dementia for an average of 4.7 years. The average age of the participants was 62 years old and they were all well-educated with above-average incomes.

Linking Diet, Stress and Body Fat

Each group reported their food intake on questionnaires, had blood work completed and levels of body fat calculated. The measurements took place at the beginning of the study and again after one year. The group of women who were considered under high stress were care-giving for an average of 13.6 hours per day compared to no hours for the control group.

The results of this study also indicated that the women who were in the high-stress group were much more likely to exhibit poor metabolic results if they ate a diet higher in sugar and saturated fat compared to the other group of women who ate a similar diet but were not under stress.

Stress Prompts Poor Food Choices (put down that donut)

As study author Dr. Ann Aschbacher pointed out, “Our data are the first to demonstrate in humans that the synergistic combination of chronic stress along with consuming more high-fat/high-sugar foods was associated with significantly worse metabolic outcomes and greater waist circumference.”

From my perspective, this study justifies more resource-intensive studies on eating patterns and dietary assessments. The more you know about the link between stress, food cravings and disease risk, the better. That way, you can take steps to change your habits.

The point is simple: When you are stressed, what foods do you reach for on a consistent basis? If you are really under the gun and anxious, you might notice yourself reaching for snacks higher in sugar and fat. That is where this research becomes important.

Weight management is not just about looking at your body mass index, diet and exercise program or activities. So much more, in fact! You need a holistic approach to drop the extra pounds or maintain your weight loss gains—looking at your emotional well-being and overall lifestyle habits.

So if stress has you reaching for something fattening (that piece of cake calling your name), you need to look at the underlying cause of the behavior and go from there, making changes to better your health and your waistline.

Hand, L., “Chronic Stress, Poor Diet May Up Metabolic Risk,” Medscape website, May 5, 2014; http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/824625.
Aschbacher, K., et al., “Chronic stress increases vulnerability to diet-related abdominal fat, oxidative stress, and metabolic risk,” PsychoneuroendocrinologAugust 2014; 46: 14–22.