Why You Need to Say No to the Macaroni (and other comfort foods!)

Say No to the MacaroniFrom the heaping scoop of gooey macaroni and cheese, to the waffles and syrup or the supersized banana split, comfort food tends to be so comforting because it reminds you of big family meals and brings you a little joy on a gloomy day.

Comfort food can pack on weight, no shock there, but did you also know that there is one thing you could be doing that might make it a whole lot worse?

Food and Stress: The Shocking Numbers

A study conducted at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has shown that women who ate a helping of comfort food the day after a single stressful event could gain, on average, 11 pounds each and every year.

That could be a little unnerving to you, or the woman in your life, as comfort food got its name because of its ability to calm your nerves and provide a bit of a mood boost after a stressful day. But the cycle of stress, turning to indulgent food, gaining weight—and stressing out because of the weight gain—is a cycle that is bound to make anyone feel worse!

Scientists at Ohio State University questioned a sampling of 58 women about how stressed they were in the last 24 hours and then provided them with a large meal containing 930 calories and 60 grams of fat. Participants were asked to eat the meal within 20 minutes. The meal, by the way, was made up of sausage, gravy and biscuits.

Study Results: Stress, Food and Fat

Women who answered that they were stressed the previous day burned about 100 less calories than the women who experienced no stress. Participants were tracked about seven hours after they ate the heavy meal; the scientists measured the metabolic rate of the participants, along with their blood sugar, insulin and cortisol (the stress hormone). All those calories that weren’t burned could potentially add up to 11 pounds each year, according to study authors. To note, the women were all middle-aged, which means that weight gain could become seriously problematic after a long period of feeling stressed and turning to fattening food.

Top stress points for women were spats with spouses and colleagues as well as trouble with children and work issues. Men weren’t part of this particular study because they were determined to have more muscle and metabolize their food differently as a result.

Top Sinful Foods You Crave…

An article about comfort food wouldn’t be complete without at least mentioning a few of the fattening offerings people go to most. One list, from a 2012 survey by Huffington Post, included some of the more popular offenders: Spaghetti and meatballs, cheesy tuna melts, gravy (on its own!), blueberry pie, cheeseburgers and (surprisingly) creamed spinach.

The Ohio State University study might have you putting down the fork and resisting temptation, as 11 pounds a year is definitely nothing to take lightly. Study co-author and nutrition professor Martha Belury spoke out on the findings offering a potential solution: “We know we can’t always avoid stressors in our life, but one thing we can do to prepare for that is to have healthy food choices in our refrigerators and cabinets so that when those stressors come up, we can reach for something healthy.”

With this piece of advice in mind, if the urge does strike after a stressful day and a little comfort is needed, your desire to chow down on that sugary slab of blueberry pie or tub of ice cream might not be quite so strong.

Kiecolt-Glaser, J., et al., “Weighty Issue: Stress and High-Fat Meals Combine to Slow Metabolism in Women,” Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research Ohio State University College of Medicine, 2014. Retrieved from http://news.osu.edu/news/2014/07/14/.