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This paper aims at identifying the impact of stress on one’s desire to eat sweets based on the relevant literature review. This issue is especially important in terms of the rapidly growing obesity rates among the population primarily caused by malnutrition. It is revealed that stress stimulates sweets eating due to several factors, including the calming effect, the addictive qualities, glucocorticoids (GC), energy homeostasis, and childhood reflex. Considering the literature review, the following recommendations are provided: change in eating habits towards healthy nutrition, mindful eating approach, and self-attunement increase.
Nowadays, stress becomes an integral part of modern society caused by the rapidly increasing pace of life. Trying to make it all at once, people experience stress because of traffic jams, a nervous job, insufficient communication, and many other factors. On the one hand, some eat sweets and believe that it helps them reduce stressful emotions. On the other hand, the need for food takes second place for other people, and they tend to skip meals. Therefore, it is of great importance to investigate the impact of stress on a person’s desire to eat sweets.
Review and Discussion
There are plenty of people increasing the consumption of sweets during the period of stress and depression and having the drive to eat. There is an opinion that chocolate contains a hormone of happiness. Indeed, in the case of moderate consumption, it may help cope with stress to some extent. Yet, the problem is that many people are tempted to acquire the addictive qualities of such highly palatable food like sugar. It is known that uncontrolled sugar nutrition increases the risk of overweight and obesity.
Yau and Potenza (2013) point out that noticing that sweet food calms oneself (the body also remembers how good it was after eating a cake), a person resorts to this method repeatedly. It becomes an obsession soon: even in the event of the slightest stress, a person refers to sugar craving. In psychology, this is called positive fixation. The more a person does not realize his or her actions in a state of stress, the more they are inclined to reproduce these reactions in relation to sweets.
Nervous tension and stress require large reserves of energy, which people seek to replenish with chocolate, sweets, and other sugar-containing products. In this case, sweets begin to play the role of antidepressants (Yau & Potenza, 2013). Sweets stimulate the production of endorphins that play an especially significant role in providing mental equilibrium. They trigger the use of these neurotransmitters by the brain. Thus, in people who are painfully experiencing stress, the need for sweets may be rather pronounced. Finally, the craving for sweets during stress can be a conditioned reflex born in childhood and formed by parents, who used candies as a manipulative means.
However, after the blood sugar content decreases again, the need for this hormone becomes even stronger, and people tend to experience sugar craving. The subsequent malnutrition, when a lot of carbohydrates is received, makes the body to convert them to fats. At the same time, the glucose level decreases, and after dinner, one wants sweets if it was too substantial. The same applies to the rest of the meals.
Why do people want to eat more sweets during stress? Sinha and Jastreboff’s (2013) research reveals the connection between energy homeostasis and the neurobiology of stress. In particular, glucocorticoids (GC) steroid hormones produced by the adrenal cortex were observed during stress. Their blood level rises sharply under anxiety, trauma, or shock conditions, which are the mechanisms of adaptation of the body to stress.
For example, GC increases systemic arterial pressure, the myocardium’s sensitivity, and the walls of blood vessels: all this allows the body to deal with complex situations more successfully. The value of the mentioned research is that the connection between these hormones and taste buds has not been studied before. At the same time, this study explains only a person’s desire to handle stressful situations with sweets, while the latter does not affect mood improvement.
Recommendations and Conclusions
Considering that stress promotes poor food choices, it is important to provide recommendations on the potential ways to control eating habits and improve them. The understanding between stress and sweets consumption associations provides essential insights into the given nutrition issue. It is possible to recommend implementing a mindfulness-based intervention. According to the study conducted by Alberts, Thewissen, and Raes (2012), the participants showed improved eating behaviors compared to the control group. The authors note that the efficiency of the above method is based on the promotion of mindful awareness and change in automatic eating patterns and emotional regulation.
Mindful eating focuses on aligning a person’s internal issues with their reactions to stress and preventing sweets craving. Thus, self-regulation serves as the key factor that may help people cope with their desire to eat sugar-containing foods (Alberts et al., 2012). In its turn, mindfulness promotes one’s self-attunement concerning such physical sensations as hunger. For example, it is essential to learn to recognize personal hunger indicators, which may be expressed in stomach growling.
Consistent with the mentioned study, Katterman, Kleinman, Hood, Nackers, and Corsica (2014) consider that mindful eating reduces emotional eating behaviors. Based on the previous studies’ review, the authors claim that mindfulness meditation is likely to influence a person’s desire to consume sweets driven by stress. The practical recommendations are that it is better to replace the harmful amount of sweets with more useful mini-snacks such as cereals, rye bread, cracker, or spinach salad with pounded sunflower seeds.
The stimulants like tea and coffee are to be avoided. It is much more effective to deal with stress itself, and if it happened, a person should not find some relief in food. If one does not remove the irritant – the cause of stress – then no diet will help, and a person will gain excessive weight. In fact, because of the prolonged extreme work, the brain will always need nutritional support – glucose, which is given by carbohydrates and sweets. Therefore, the importance of mindful eating cannot be overestimated.
To conclude, stress increases one’s desire to eat sweets and leads to food craving. Several studies indicate that people tend to eat more sugar-containing products during and after stressful events. It is recommended to apply mindful eating to reduce the identified tendency based on one’s awareness of the problem and the subsequent self-attunement.
Alberts, H. J., Thewissen, R., & Raes, L. (2012). Dealing with problematic eating behaviour. The effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on eating behaviour, food cravings, dichotomous thinking and body image concern. Appetite, 58(3), 847-851.
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Katterman, S. N., Kleinman, B. M., Hood, M. M., Nackers, L. M., & Corsica, J. A. (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: A systematic review. Eating Behaviors, 15(2), 197-204.
Sinha, R., & Jastreboff, A. M. (2013). Stress as a common risk factor for obesity and addiction. Biological Psychiatry, 73(9), 827-835.
Yau, Y. H., & Potenza, M. N. (2013). Stress and eating behaviors. Minerva Endocrinologica, 38(3), 255-267.