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Thread: Comfort Foods and Stress

  1. #1


    What the article doesn't talk about (and should have) is how to TURN OFF the urge to keep going, once you've had the one portion! From yesterday's NY Times.

    September 16, 2003
    Comfort Foods Switch Off Stress, Scientists Find

    When life is not going so smoothly and people reach for goodies full of fat and sugar, they are doing more than surrendering to cravings. Comfort foods like chocolate cake and ice cream literally blunt the body's response to chronic stress, scientists reported last week.
    The finding, published in the online edition of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirms what many people know firsthand. Eating calorie-rich food seems to calm the nerves, but eating too much can lead to obesity, depression and more stress.
    This is the first time it has been shown that the tendency to overeat in the face of chronic stress is biologically driven, said Dr. Norman Pecoraro, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California at San Francisco who helped carry out the research in rats. What is true for stressed-out rats, he said, is also true for humans.
    In fact, "if you are overly stressed, it's probably a good idea to overeat, at least in the short run," Dr. Pecoraro said. "But if you develop a thick tire of fat around your abdomen, you need to figure out a way to reduce your stress or you'll be inviting all sorts of chronic health problems."
    Until this work, it was not known that metabolic signals from the body could turn down activity of the stress hormone axis, said Dr. Bruce McEwen, a neuroendocrinologist and a leading stress expert at Rockefeller University in New York, who was not involved in the study. The findings provide a new set of mechanisms for understanding how chronic stress and anxiety interact with food, Dr. McEwen said.
    The body experiences two kinds of stress, Dr. Pecoraro said. Both have braking systems to keep them from spiraling out of control.
    Acute stress occurs when a single event, like getting cut off on the highway, sets off an alarm response in the brain. Signals are sent to the body's adrenal glands, which release a cascade of stress hormones.
    "You feel anxious, defensive, vigilant," Dr. Pecoraro said. "You want to hunker down. You give up on finding food, which is a useful thing to do if there's real danger." And then, within minutes, elevated stress hormones interact with brain receptors and shut down the system.
    With chronic stress, like getting cut off on the freeway several times a day, stress hormones become chronically elevated, Dr. Pecoraro said. They ramp up anxiety centers in the brain, causing more signals to flow to the adrenal glands, releasing more stress hormones. The system excites itself in a vicious cycle.
    Until now, no one has known how chronic stress gets turned off. A year ago, researchers in Dr. Mary Dallman's laboratory at U.C. San Francisco removed the adrenal glands from rats and exposed them to chronic stress. When they added stress hormones to rats' brains, the animals remained stressed. But when they fed them sugar, the animals calmed down.
    This meant that the body provided a brake on the brain's chronic stress response, Dr. Pecoraro said. It seems to be part of a feedback loop involving abdominal fat, energy-rich food and pleasure centers in the brain. First, he said, "stress hormones increase the salience of rewards."
    "They tell the brain, go get the goodies," he went on. "It can be comfort food or other rewards like drugs, sex or rock 'n' roll."
    This makes sense from an evolutionary viewpoint, Dr. Pecoraro said. Animals that are acutely stressed stop eating, lie low and pull fat and protein from their bodies. But they cannot do that forever.
    "After a few days, they need to get out and get a real fix," he said. "They need high-energy foods, like a tub of butter, to put money in the bank."
    Once energy stores are replenished, a signal, probably from fat, flows back to the brain saying it is all right to calm down, Dr. Pecoraro said. The chronic stress cycle is turned off.
    In an insidious sidelight, stress hormones also activate fat receptors in the abdomen and belly in ways that increase deposits of fat, he said. The more abdominal fat people have, the better they shut down chronic stress but the more vulnerable they are to diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
    Chronic stress, perversely, also excites the compulsive pleasure-seeking component of the system, Dr. Pecoraro said.
    "If you use sex, drugs or rock 'n' roll instead of high-energy food to get stress-reducing pleasure, you miss out on the metabolic feedback," he said. "You don't shut down the chronic stress system. You just seek more cocaine. Things like saccharin won't cut it. You need the real thing or the system won't stay in balance."
    SW:197 GW:152 CW:148 Height: 5'6<br />Been at goal since July 1999<br />If I can do it, ANYone can.

  2. #2


    Thanks for posting this--it was interesting to read.

    "There is more to be said about your character in what you say "no" to as opposed to what you say "yes" to." --Vivian, my WW leader

    "If you believe you are destined for greatness, are you living like it?" --Dr. Phil

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    vancouver, canada


    My thanks too,
    It was a really interesting article.
    Carleerun for the Presidential Challenge <br />Go BootCamp Buddies Go!!!

  4. #4


    My pleasure. We can all learn from it -- that yes, there is comfort in food, and there are such things as comfort food... how to get AROUND abusing them, tho' is the issue!
    SW:197 GW:152 CW:148 Height: 5'6<br />Been at goal since July 1999<br />If I can do it, ANYone can.

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