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How stress is messing with your healthy food choices

stress and food choicesThe next time you mean to pick up a spinach salad on the way home from working a 12-hour day and instead find yourself checking out with a box of Annie’s Macaroni & Cheese, blame it on “candy brain.”

It’s a term the New York Times uses to describe the results of a new study that showed elevated stress levels really do cause people to choose less healthy foods.

The study had two groups of participants make food choices: a control group, and an experimental group that had elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol (from their hands being plunged into a bowl of icy water…ouch).

The stressed-out group was much more likely to choose unhealthy foods that were richer and tastier. Their brains also showed increased activity in parts related to the enjoyment of delicious food and decreased activity in parts related to long-term planning. In other words, the Times explains, the stress “amplified the perceived flavor of unhealthful foods and dampened the ability to consider the future, undermining self-control.”

So while eliminating stress from your life would be the most effective solution (ha!), a more practical strategy would be to take extra care in stocking your fridge with nutritious foods when you know you’ve got a frenzied, pressure-filled week ahead—so there are only good choices available. —Lisa Elaine Held

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(Photo: Ali Inay)