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.
Study suggests moderate stress impacts food decisions
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.
Making better food decisions to maintain a healthy diet
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
- Turn to a buddy
If there is someone you spend a lot of time with, let him/her know you’re on a healthy diet mission and ask for support. When you feel tempted, tell the person and perhaps your buddy can distract you.
- Keep a food diary
Write down everything you eat. A lot of people find when they do this they not only see the connection between mood and food, they tend to eat less because they can see how much food they are putting into their bodies.
- Tackle your stress
Try a stress management technique, such as walking, meditation or yoga.
- Exercise daily
If you don’t already exercise, include physical activity in your daily routine. It is known as a powerful stress reducer because it impacts mood and energy levels.
- Stock up
Develop a supply of tasty, healthy snacks that you know you will like and can easily access. Lightly salted nuts are an example. This way you won’t be looking for unhealthy food.
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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