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Are stress and hunger related?

STRESSED + HANGRY? Lets dive in. ⁣

The image below is laying out peoples interpretation of stress and hunger so everyone’s on the same page (it’s not a legitimate figure!⁣)

⁣One of the things many people ask is “how does my stress impact my eating/weight/metabolism?”⁣

Overall larger analysis of the literature says it’s messy. Some relationships with some measures of health or weight, some not.

Individual studies found no relationship but meta found associations with stress and BMI, waist, triglyceride, HDL, BP. Job stress was associated with elevated fasting glucose. But no detected relationship of stress and metabolic syndrome (Tenk et al. 2018). 

Some small to moderate relationships between cortisol and waist circumference and glucose/insulin parameters in males, and blood pressure in women. Inconsistent relationships with cortisol and metabolic measures (Abraham et al 2013). 

Chronic stress may enhances the preference for sweet and/or fatty foods. Which may cause changes to to the alteration of the brain’s (mesolimbic) dopamine reward system due to consistently elevated glucocorticoids (type of hormone). Eating highly palatable foods repeatedly can stimulates the reward system and possible reduces the “reward” we feel in our brain, leading to a higher threshold of comfort feelings from palatable food, which may result in over eating (Adams et al 2017).

In the short term acute stress (a small single bout) may decrease appetite; our body is more focused on avoiding the stressor than maintaining energy. However, in the long term, this may elevate those brain hormones glucocorticoids (addressed above). This may result in increased fat storage, stimulate appetite (our body wants energy), and may reduce our bodies sensitive to leptin our hunger suppressing hormone, and increase insulin release. This together possible cause us to prefer “comfort foods”

⁣But likely we have all felt the effects of long term stress on our inner hangry monster. So how does this work & why does this happen!? ⁣

In the short term, our appetites are likely decreased in the face of stress. Likely because our body is to focused on the immediate stressors. But In the long term our bodies want/need energy to “fight off the stressor”.⁣

Then results in impacts on our brains reward system & the food we eat. More comforting foods (carby or mainly carb + fat together) stimulate this and make us feel good, at least in the short term. But overtime we may continue to do this to feel more of this.⁣

Furthermore chronic stress can also decrease our bodies sensitivity to the hormone leptin, which tells our brain we are full/don’t need more energy. Which may then make us even hungrier.⁣

With cortisol — a stress hormone (not always bad) possibly shifting our metabolism towards favoring carb/glucose oxidation, increasing insulin, decreasing fat oxidation & further playing in to this desire for carby/comfort foods.⁣



All to say — if you feel this way you ARENT broken. Our bodies do these things to protect us but in our modern world feel counterproductive or lead us feeling frustrated.⁣

⁣But I think it’s important that I never want any educational post to leave you feeling hopeless. You are NOT! You are NOT your stress (@coachkaseyjo & @coachcarmichael for more) ♥️ 

& doing little things like making your daily eating less stressful (NOTE: lazy lyss meals) so you can STAY WELL FED, make food + movement choices that support our glucose metabolism as well as even work WITH these “cravings” by working these foods in 🤟🏻

If you want more science-backed information, check out my nutrition guide “FUEL” https://doclyssfitness.com/nutrition/

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Hey, I'm Lyss!

I’m Exercise Physiologist, sports nutritionist, weight lifter, and ultra runner. I am here to bring science to your training in a no-nonsense way. I have helped thousands of women crush big lifting goals, cross race finish lines, and even do both. I’m here to help you do the same!

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