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NEWS: Stress Leads to Weight Gain, Study Concludes

NEWS: Stress Leads to Weight Gain, Study Concludes

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Eyes bigger than the stomach? Before drooling at a menu or raiding the fridge after a stressful day, try giving the brain a chance to relax. Studies suggest that under stress the brain competes with the rest of the body for resources and can cause increased eating [1]. So when it comes to scoffing down food, how much does the gray-matter matter?

Brain, The Big Boss - Analysis

In terms of the body, the brain occupies a special hierarchal position in energy metabolism [1]. In other words, think of the brain as the big CEO, always looking for ways to outdo the competition (muscles and fat) and make the most profits (energy). Under acute stress, the brain boss requires 12% more energy [2] and behaves “selfishly” to out-compete the rest of the body for energy sources [1]. How demanding!  In order to cover its increased energy needs, the brain triggers a “cerebral supply chain” where it limits the amount of glucose (the energy!) going to the body in order to enhance the amount of glucose going to itself [1]. Pretty clever, huh? But besides increasing the brain’s demand for more energy, psychosocial stress also triggers increased eating and cravings, especially for sugary carbohydrates [1]. If being stressed itself isn’t bad enough, chronic stress has been associated with weight gain because of the body’s preference for energy-dense foods high in sugar and fat [3]. Eating these high-calorie but highly tasty “comfort” foods during stressful periods has shown to reduce stress by decreasing behavioral responses to it [4]. With the brain constantly demanding energy and triggering cravings for unhealthy foods, people with stress must try extra hard to prevent overeating and control eating behavior. Stress affects everyone, so be sure to relax and tell the brain who’s boss!


Under stress, the brain competes with the body for its energy supply, leading to increased eating & potential weight gain. Do the mind and body a favor and relax once in awhile!

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Works Cited +

  1. The selfish brain: stress and eating behavior. Peters, A., Kubera, B., Hubold, C., et al. Medical Clinic 1, University of Luebeck Luebeck, Germany. Frontiers in Neuroscience 2011; 5:74
  2. How the selfish brain organizes its supply and demand. Hitze, B., Hubold, C., van Dyken, R., et al. Medical Clinic I, University of Luebeck Luebeck, Germany. Frontiers in Neuroenergetics 2010 Jun 9; 2:7.
  3. Relationship between stress, eating behavior, and obesity. Torres, SJ., Nowson, CA. Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia. Nutrition 2007 Nov-Dec;23(11-12):887-94.
  4. Pleasurable behaviors reduce stress via brain reward pathways. Ulrich-Lai, YM., Christiansen, AM., Ostrander, MM., et al. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2010 Nov 23; 107(47):20529-34