It seems hard to believe, but we make over 200 food-related decisions on a daily basis. Neurologists say it isn’t just a case of deciding what to eat, but when to eat, where, how much, and with whom.
When people are surveyed they often say choosing what to include in their diet is the hardest food decision. How many times have you found yourself standing in the kitchen, trying to decide whether to reach for a piece of fruit or a bag of potato chips? According to a new study, stress may be the factor that guides your final choice.
Researchers in Switzerland asked people to make food decisions after exposing them to moderate stress, and results showed they were more likely to select items that tasted good, as opposed to food that is considered part of a healthy diet.
Examinations indicated the neural pathways in the brain that influence a person’s desire for instant gratification experienced increased activity after moderate stress. Brain areas that control willpower and allow a person to maintain long-term goals, such as a healthy diet, showed reduced activity.
During the study, men placed their hands in ice water for three minutes to create moderate stress. Afterwards, they were shown photographs of food and had to select which they wanted to eat. Another group of men, who were not exposed to the ice water, were asked to choose from the same photos. The men exposed to the stress tended to choose the unhealthier food, while the men who were not exposed selected healthier options.
When researchers had a chance to look at the men’s brain scans, they discovered that the connections in the brain involved in promoting a health goal were much weaker in the men exposed to stress.
The authors of the study say their findings would explain “why the brain finds it difficult to resist temptations” even when people have good, healthy diet intentions.
Recognizing that stress can have an impact on your food cravings is the first step in helping you turn your diet around. Like any problem, if you don’t know the real source, it is hard to change the habit. If willpower is something you struggle with, you can start by removing the temptation. For example, if you have difficulty resisting potato chips or chocolate, keep those foods out of your house. When you have a snack-attack, you simply won’t be able to have either. Below you will find a few more tips on how to avoid unhealthy food decisions.
5 tips to avoid unhealthy food decisions
If you try a number of self-help measures but still find that your food decisions are having a negative impact on your well-being, you may want to consider seeking professional guidance. It could just be a matter of making a minor adjustment in diet. A professional health care provider can also help determine if the problem is more serious. For example, some people may think they are experiencing a typical reaction to stress but could in fact have an eating disorder.
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