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Stress May Sabotage Diet Tenacity

Stress can significantly influence whether you are going to make healthy food decision or not, a new study suggests. When you are in a stressful situation, you are more likely to snack on a cake instead of fruits. According to the new study, it was found out that even moderate amount of stress can weaken your willpower to go for healthier options when selecting foods.  With that said, you should try your best to avoid making food decisions when stressed. It will prevent sabotaging your lifestyle fitness goal of maintaining a healthy weight or losing extra pounds.

The New Study

Researchers from Switzerland conducted the new study. Participants who had experienced moderate stress were requested to pick food to eat. Results indicated that stressed participants were more likely to choose food that had better taste, and were less likely to pick a healthy food that wasn’t sweet, than when they had no stress.

Stress Alters Brain Function

About this small study, it was demonstrated that the neural pathways in the brain that influence a person’s wish to get immediate gratification showed increased activity after experiencing moderate stress. On the other hand, there was reduced activity in the brain area that is in charge of willpower, which also affect influences the will to maintain long-term goals, including eating healthy foods. These findings gave a clue on why the brain of a person with good health intentions finds it quite difficult to defy temptations.

Self-Control Involves Complex Network

In reference to Silvia Maier, a co-author of the study who is also pursuing a doctoral degree in neuroeconomics at the University of Zurich, their findings suggest that self-control is mediated in the brain through a complex and distributed network. Maier also added that when disturbances occur in any number of brain regions within the complex network, your self-control can become weakened. It can in turn, sabotage your lifestyle fitness goal to eat healthy foods or engage in physical activity to burn calories.

Enhancing Self-Control

The new findings shed some light in revealing that there are several ways people can enhance their self-control or avoid problems triggered by a weakened self-control. According to Maier, such techniques could be makers of future ways for more research.

Study Exempted Women

In this study which was published in journal Neuron earlier in August, Todd Hare, also from the University of Zurich, and Maier had recruited 51 young men who were struggling to stick with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Women did not participate in this study, because cortisol, the stress hormone, interacts with estrogen and therefore, the researchers could not have been able to regulate cortisol levels as a variable, according to Maier.

Nearly half of the male participants were requested to put their hands in a bath containing ice water for three minutes. This was purposely meant to create a moderate stressful situation. Later, all the young men were shown photos of two foods on a computer screen, where there were a healthier choice and a tastier item. They were then requested to select the food they preferred to eat.

Brain Scans Findings

Nearly all the men who were put under moderate stress were tempted to select unhealthy foods with good taste, unlike those who were not stressed. This was demonstrated through brain scan where researchers found that stressed men had decreased activity in areas that help regulate the long-term goal of eating healthy food in stressed participants. According to Maier, stress increases brain signals that influence taste preferences, while decreasing brain signals in charge of good health.

Study Suggestions

According to Maier, a single stressful day may not completely sabotage a person’s lifestyle fitness goal if the stress ends within the same day. The person can go back to eating a healthy and balanced diet. However, the study suggests that even common moderate stressful events that occur frequently can cause lapses in self-control. If you rely on your willpower to wield your self-control to stick with the restrictive diet, it will be difficult to go for healthy options when you become moderately stressed, said Maier.

Coping With Stress

Maier said that people who try to eat the healthy diet should recognize that stress can increase their vulnerability in giving in to food cravings.  Being aware that your brain will weaken for self-control whenever temptation arises, you should explore for better alternatives means not to rely on your willpower. Removing temptation before they occur is one of the best approaches that Maier suggested.


Although this was a small study, it has contributed to the growing body of evidence that shows stress can lead to unhealthy lifestyle habits. The good news is that dodging stressful situations can help you to stick with a healthy lifestyle fitness program.


  1. https://www.glozine.com/lifestyle/health
  2. http://healthinthelaughlane.com/stress-anxiety-try-7-natural-therapy/
Sara Biston

About authorSara Biston is a passionate blogger and health article writer. She is an experienced writer who loves writing about beauty skin care, lifestyle, food, health and wellness. She believes in spreading a word of happiness through her writings. Sara’s passion for healthy living became the catalyst for a major career change. She is firm believing the fact that “Tough time never lost but Tough people do”. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ for daily inspiration.

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