The Tie Between Overeating and Stress at Work

By: Bel Marra Health | Obesity | Tuesday, March 27, 2012 - 04:37 AM

Stress at WorkDoes work-related stress induce you to overeat? Do you get an extra serving of your favorite dish or an additional bowl of ice cream for dessert after a grueling work day? A recent study showed that our brains control the amount and type of food we eat by directly controlling the activities of our digestive system. This association may have been earlier proposed by other studies but the recent report further strengthens this connection by presenting actual examples of study participants and their preferred diets.

Stress at the workplace has never been easy. Some employees react to stress by engaging in exercise, drinking alcohol or smoking, while others turn to food for comfort. Diets can thus play a major role in general health of every employee, especially when coupled with work stress. An employee who is experiencing tremendous stress at work and turns to increasing the daily diets would therefore result in adding several pounds within a few months. In order to burn the caloric input from these diets, one has to engage in exercise to achieve weight loss. However, working in a stressful environment often drains one’s energy, thus decreasing the chances for an employee to find the energy to perform any exercise before or after work hours. Continuous and excessive diets without any exercise are definitely not the solution to weight loss.

The recent article describes that the brain is such a strong organ of the body, using up approximately 65% of the carbohydrates consumed in daily diets. The energy used during exercise often depletes the glucose demand for the brain and thus the body resorts to deriving energy from other molecules in the body, such as lactate in the muscles. This pathway is responsible for exercise programs that are geared toward weight loss.

When an individual is under stress, the brain uses up more energy than when in a relaxed state, often resulting in weight loss. If an individual solving a crossword puzzle increases his or her brain energy demand by 12%, imagine how much more energy will be required by a person constantly dealing with work-related stress. The medical report showed that during stress, the body suppresses its production of insulin, which is a digestive hormone that degrades carbohydrates derived from daily diets. This insulin suppression allows the brain to receive the carbohydrates derived from diets, allowing it to address the increased energy requirements when under stress. In turn, any excessive amounts of carbohydrates derived from diets are stored in the body, thus resulting in weight gain or obesity. It is thus often recommended that exercise be included in the daily regimen of people who want to achieve weight loss.

In a simple research study involving 20 obese and 20 normal weighing men, blood samples were collected in relaxed and stressful conditions to determine the hormonal levels related to stress, namely cortisol. The study showed that the obese men did not produce any cortisol, which is responsible in suppressing insulin during stressful situations, whereas the men with normal weights showed the general response of producing cortisol and thus preventing the production of insulin. These results showed that the brain activities of the obese men were modified in terms of responding to stress and veering them farther away from weight loss. In addition, the study participants with normal weights preferred to consume diets rich in carbohydrates, which is a normal response of the body to replace the depleted carbohydrates used by the brain during stress. On the other hand, the obese study participants chose to consume high-fat and high-protein diets after a stressful situation. This variation in food choice among the study participants may also affect the capacity for weight loss and exercise.

The results of this study showed that individuals subjected to constant stress have possibly adapted to the harsh environment, resulting in a change in the functioning of the digestive system. The absence of cortisol results in the accumulation of carbohydrates in the body during excessive eating and prevents the body to burn the extra calories in order to achieve weight loss. It is still possible to overeat and exercise in order to spend all the calories consumed in such diets, yet when the brain is factored into the scenario, weight loss may be harder to achieve because the normal mechanism of suppressing insulin production does not occur. In addition, the addition of several pounds also makes it harder to exercise, which is key to weight loss.

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