May Prompt Women to Eat
Tough day at work? That might be
one more reason to watch what you eat when you get home. It is
well-established that people often eat to relieve stress. But
a study published in the monthly Journal of Applied Social Psychology
found that even after the stress was over, women who were more
frustrated by it ate more fatty foods than those who were not
One surprising finding: Men's snack
preferences stayed the same, regardless of their stress levels.
"A lot of studies have looked at
what happens during stress," said lead researcher Laura Cousino
Klein, assistant professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State
University. "What we wanted to know is what happens after the
stress is over."
Klein and her colleagues presented
the participants with a variety of tasks over 25 minutes while
randomly blasting them with office sounds a phone ringing,
a typewriter clacking at 108 decibels, the same noise level
you would get standing next to a jackhammer.
After that time was up, the participants
were left alone for 12 minutes and offered a magazine, water and
a tray of snacks fatty cheese, potato chips and white chocolate,
and lowfat popcorn, pretzels and jelly beans.
After they had snacked, they were
asked to trace their way through an unsolvable maze.
Those women whose stress level
was the highest during the maze exercise their blood pressure
and heart rate remained high, and they quickly showed frustration
with the maze tended to eschew the lowfat snacks in favor
of fattier treats.
Women who were highly frustrated
by the noise stress ate 65 to 70 grams of the fatty snacks during
the break, twice as much as the women who were not as frustrated.
"What's interesting is that during
the noise, during the work time, people rise to the occasion,"
Klein said. "They accomplish the job they have to get done, and
they do quite well at it. They block all the other things that
are going on in their environment.
"But there's a psychological and
mental cost to that, and what that is is that after that's over,
once the stressor is done, then we see this behavioral element."
Klein said a corollary can be seen
most weekends, when people are most likely to binge drink or stray
from their diets.
The results of the study, completed
in 1996 and published in the journal's March issue, did not surprise
William Kelley Jr., director of the Wellness Center at Green Mountain
College in Poultney, Vt.
"Your body doesn't stop dealing
with a stressor just because the stressor is no longer in place,"
Kelley said. "You're still processing an event long after it happens."
Dr. Christopher Still, director
of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Geisinger
Medical Center ini Danville, Pa., said knowing that stress effects
can be long-lasting can help people anticipate that reaction and
find other ways to deal with stress, such as exercise.
In the study, men ate about 40
grams of fatty snacks, regardless of their stress levels.
Klein said the explanation might
have to do with the way men and women handle stress, an idea Kelley
"I definitely have seen the same
thing, and I want to be careful how I word that because I don't
want to start a gender debate," Kelley said. "But the men that
I usually see are sort of, `It happened, it's over, let's deal
with it and move on,' whereas the women tend to struggle more
with the processing time of an event afterward. I'm not sure if
that's genetic programming or society."
Reference Source 102