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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Dec;1032:208-10.

Are stress eaters at risk for the metabolic syndrome?

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  • 1UCSF Health Psychology Program, 3333 California St., Ste 465, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.


Stress eating is a health behavior that has been overlooked in much of health psychology research. It is largely unknown why some tend to eat during or after stressful periods, whereas others tend to lose their appetite and lose weight. Furthermore, it is unknown if such transient changes in food intake or macronutrient composition during stress have clinically significant consequences in terms of weight and metabolic health. The Brown University Medical Student Study examined students during a baseline control period as well as during two examination periods. This design enabled an examination of weight changes in self-proclaimed stress eaters vs stress-less eaters over time. Stress eaters tended to gain more weight and demonstrated increases in nocturnal levels of insulin, cortisol, and blood levels of total/HDL cholesterol ratio, during exam periods, controlling for the baseline control period. These data show prospectively that stress eating may indeed have short-term consequences on metabolic health. Future research will need to determine whether this confers a greater risk of disease over time.

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