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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Linking Foods, Behavior and Metabolism to Promote a Healthy Body Weight

Location: Obesity and Metabolism Research Unit

Title: Obesity, the Economic Meltdown, and the Gut Feeling for the Foods We Choose to Eat

Author
item Laugero, Kevin

Submitted to: Clinical Nutrition Insight
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: March 8, 2010
Publication Date: May 1, 2010
Citation: Laugero, K.D. 2010. Obesity, the Economic Meltdown, and the Gut Feeling for the Foods We Choose to Eat. Clinical Nutrition Insight.

Interpretive Summary: Chronic stress, which is on the rise, alters the brain in ways that disrupt cognitive (or mindful) control of food intake and increase the risk for emotional-based eating behavior. This review article discusses how high levels of chronic stress may affect decisions regarding food intake, describes a model through which ingestion of high-energy comfort foods may reduce stress but contribute to obesity, and presents evidence suggesting a role for stress management techniques in the management of obesity.

Technical Abstract: Dietary recommendations typically emphasize minimizing the intake of highly palatable, energy dense foods, but this may be very difficult in some persons experiencing stress. Non-homeostatic regulation of food intake, such as habitually eating more or less in response to emotional stimuli, can affect a person’s dietary patterns and, therefore, potentially influence body weight. Chronic stress may impair mindful (cognitive) control of food intake, and this deficit may actually serve to ensure emotional coping. In some persons, emotional coping includes self-medicating with highly palatable foods. If this stress-coping behavior is prolonged or becomes habitual, the consequences may include unhealthy weight gain, obesity, and related metabolic complications. This article describes a physiological basis for stress eating and demonstrates why some people experiencing stress have a limited capacity for mindful control of eating and habitually turn to food during times of stress. Equipping people with the tools and capacity for coping with everyday stress may help some persons to overcome emotional eating and improve adherence to nutritional guidance.

Last Modified: 11/27/2014
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