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Scientists have been studying the link between stress and junk food

Why a challenging meeting can lead you to reach for chocolates or sweets…

Image: Shutterstock/SpeedKingz

STRESS CAN TOTALLY derail a whole diet plan by impairing our self-control, researchers have found.

A challenging meeting or an upset customer could lead you to reach for chocolate or sweets later in the day, a study which appeared in the journal Neuron this week revealed.

Lead author Silvia Maier, of the University of Zurich’s Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research says that the brain is sensitive to upsets.

Self-control abilities are sensitive to perturbations at several points within [the brain], and optimal self-control requires a precise balance of input from multiple brain regions rather than a simple on/off switch.

She emphasised that much work still remains, however, to fully understand the mechanisms involved.

In the study, 29 participants underwent a treatment known to induce moderate stress in the laboratory before they were asked to choose between two food options. An additional 22 participants did not undergo the treatment, which involved being observed and evaluated by the experimenter while immersing a hand in an ice water bath for three minutes, before choosing between the food options.

All of the participants who were selected for the study were making an effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle, so the study presented them with a conflict between eating a very tasty but unhealthy item and one that is healthy but less tasty.

The scientists found that when individuals chose between different food options after having experienced the stressful ice bath treatment, they overweighed food taste attributes and were more likely to choose an unhealthy food compared with people who were not stressed.

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