13 July 2006

Eating reports

Found a few articles today about Britain's Economic and Social Research Council's recent report about stress-induced eating habits.

University of Leeds researchers looked at the relationship between snacking and stress. "Stress" isn't defined as really big things such as losing your job or a death or an accident. What they were looking at can be classified as life's minor annoyances--misplacing your keys, a line-up at the ATM, the loud mobile phone talker on the train...That sort of thing.

In sum,

  • Subjects who reported at least one minor hassle per day ate less at their main meals, but ate "significantly" more between-meal snacks;
  • In an annoying day (one where subjects had several hassles), female reached for fatty and/or sugary snacks; on such days, both sexes ate fewer vegetable portions;
  • As the week went on (and hassles mounted), subjects (especially men) ate more fibre and fat;
  • "Ego-threatening, interpersonal and work-related" stressors triggered more snacking, but subjects ate less when faced with "physical" stressors;
  • Dieters, emotional eaters, those who eat because of external factors (because they smell or see something), overeaters, along with obese people and women are more likely to snack when stressed;
  • Subjects in a demanding job where they have little control snack more;
  • Women who work longer hours (undefined afaik), eat more sugar and fat, exercise less, and (those who smoke) smoke more, and
  • Men and women who work longer hours drink less alcohol.


I'm reading the articles and the report brief and a couple of things pop to mind...

I'm not surprised--when people are stressed, they look for comfort food. For many, this means foods that are high in fats and carbs. Let's face it, a broccoli floret really doesn't make me feel better when I'm stressed.

I've read somewhere that it's programming from long back that corresponds to the fight-or-flight response. Scientifically, carbs increase tryptophan that releases serotonin into our brains. In other words, carb-rich foods make us happy.

The other thing that came to mind was last week's StatsCan article on the Canadian diet, and in particular, cbc.ca's headline "Most Canadians aren't eating a balanced diet - too much fat, too few veg."

On the positive side, our diet is improving, but it's still not a great way to eat...especially when you realize that 25 per cent of those polled ate fast food take-away within the previous 24 hours. Snacking accounts for more of our caloric intake than breakfast (the most important meal of the day, or so I was told)--18 per cent of our daily consumed calories came from breakfast compared to 23 per cent from snacks. 41 per cent of our snacking calories come from the "other food category" (not milk, meat, grains, fruits & veg).

As for me, I'd say...yeah, when I'm stressed chocolate and caffeine keeps me going throughout the day. I'm actually quite conscious about eating more veg (and starches) when I'm stressed--I feel better balanced when I avoid meat. That said, sometimes, on a particularly bad day, week or month, a beautifully grilled, thick and juicy steak appeals to my carnivorous nature and soothes the beast within...

Mind you, you will soon see how I've been dealing with my recent stresses...




Anonymous said...

Very interesting, Jasmine.

I definitely notice the link between the stress I experience and my eating habits. It's like it gives my body something to do other than worry about whatever is stressing me out!

Jen said...

Great post. I agree I sometimes eat for comfort, and there's nothing like comfort than a nice thick slab of chocolate or maybe a tub of ice cream. It's too bad that our minds don't constitute vegies for comfort food.

Erin S. said...

thanks for the info jasmine. I definitely notice that when I'm feeling more stressed/busy at work I "let" myself have a non-diet soda or sugary snacks because "I deserve it". At least that's the mentality....

Anonymous said...

Hi Jasmine - this may be out of topic but I've read an article that children in the uk who tried new (better) school dinners after Jamie's programme can concentrate much better in the class. We all need chocolate or sugary snacks time to time but I think knowing what we're eating is important... I'm glad your ankle is better now :) take care.

jasmine said...

Hello all

I wonder when someone "important" will notice the correlation between the standard diet and stress eating.

Keiko--not surprised about the schools study. I think it carries on into real life. I know a number of people who don't eat anything for breakfast and lets just say they are pretty dysfunctional until lunch...