Why stress eating doesn't work

Gaelle Cohen

 (Gaelle Cohen)

In case you needed more scientifically-proven research that bad food doesn't actually make you feel good, a brand-new study published in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition just disproved the whole idea behind stress-eating.

A few months ago, a study came out debunking the concept of “comfort food.” Because you’re smart—and because you’ve ended a bad day with a bunch of Ben & Jerry’s before—it probably came as no surprise that so-called comfort food provides little comfort.

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The latest study gathered a group of self-described chocolate lovers and induced stress by putting their hands in ice-cold water (probably a little different than the stress you deal with on a daily basis, but believe it or not, a body’s reaction is pretty much the same regardless of the cause of stress). Then they encouraged the participants to press hand grips for a chance to smell chocolate, measuring how much effort they put into it along the way. Sounds a little silly, but the findings were anything but.

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There’s no question that stress makes us crave rewards and motivates us to obtain them—how many times have you told yourself you can have that chocolate-chip cookie after you finish your to-do list?—but this research suggests that we rarely get as much pleasure from the reward as we’d hoped. (And the study was conducted at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, so you know they were using top-notch chocolate.)

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When we feel stressed out, cortisol kicks into high gear, making us crave things we probably shouldn’t. Temping as it may be, giving into those cravings won’t make the stress disappear. Instead, grab your yoga mat for some deep-breathing and downward-dogs, or lace up your running shoes and hit the pavement. Exercise, or most of it anyway, is proven to help stress; by the time you’re done sweating it out, your cravings will be gone, too. Who needs chocolate?

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