Feeling stressed can trigger more than migraine headaches or a meltdown. You could become obese! Learn how to chill out and keep your body fat in check
Why Self-Deprivation Is Dumb
The Penn mouse study also suggests that women may be more sensitive to this particular effect of stress; there may be a biological reason your guy would choose to zone out on the couch rather than raid the cupboards after a rough day. Researchers found that when a single high-fat food pellet was buried in the creatures' bedding, the stressed-out Minnies were much more motivated than the Mickeys to dig up the yummy nugget--uncovering it in an average of 60 seconds, while males took more than twice as long. (In the interest of safety, please do not attempt to recreate this test at home.)
Researchers at Montclair State University found that men's and women's snacking habits also differ. A group of subjects were given puzzles, some of which were impossible to solve, then they were invited to snack on bowls of peanuts, grapes, potato chips, and M&M's. The women tended to eat more of a healthy snack when they were able to solve the puzzles but dipped into the chocolate more often when they couldn't. Men showed the opposite response, eating significantly more unhealthy snacks when they mastered the puzzles. Lead study author Debra A. Zellner, Ph.D., attributes the difference to men's and women's attitudes about "taboo" foods. Men tend to eat junk food as a reward--in this case, for having solved the puzzles. On the other hand, when female subjects (many of whom were on diets) got frustrated, they reached for taboo snacks to make themselves feel better.
That's a bad idea in more ways than one. "The more you try to restrict yourcalories, the more likely you are to gain weight," says neuroscientist Cliff Roberts, Ph.D., a senior lecturer with London Southbank University who studied 71 healthy female students who were enrolled in a nurse practitioner program. In the 12 weeks from the beginning of the term to finals, 40 of the women gained an average of five and a half pounds. All were habitual dieters who had exhibited the highest dietary restraint at the onset of the term, and all had significantly high cortisol levels. Roberts believes that the added stress of trying to maintain their weight while keeping up with their schoolwork created a vicious cycle: Stress drove them to eat; then eating (and the weight gain that followed) stressed them out even more and they resorted to filling themselves up with comfort food.
Chronically elevated cortisol levels from any kind of prolonged stress can affect weight even more over the long haul. For one thing, cortisol encourages the body to store fat--specifically, in the abdominal region--rather than burn it. It's nature's way of ensuring that resources are readily available for fuel when the body needs to perform life-preserving exertion or, for that matter, withstand famine. This all makes even more sense when you consider that abdominal fat has both a greater blood supply (so cortisol travels there quickly) and more receptors for cortisol. The hormone also slows the production of testosterone, which is essential for muscle building. Chronically low testosterone promotes loss of muscle mass, which ultimately can slow your metabolism.