How stress makes a high-fat diet even more fattening

September 11, 2014
Volume 11    |   Issue 36

Don't eat a high-fat, high-calorie meal the day after a stressful event, says a study at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. It increases your insulin levels and slows down your metabolism. This can cause unnecessary weight gain.

Just eating a fatty diet the day after a disagreement with a friend or family member is enough to add pounds by slowing down your metabolism. The researchers found that "the participants burned fewer calories over the seven hours after the meal when they had a stressor in their life the day before the meal."

How many calories? Stressed women burned 104 fewer calories than the non-stressed women. That might not sound like much - but it adds up to nearly 11 pounds over the course of a year. Not only that, the stressed women had higher levels of insulin, which can lead to an increase in fat storage.

While you probably know that we have a tendency to choose unhealthier foods when we're stressed, it isn't just our choices that contribute to weight gain. This study shows that the stress itself has an impact as well. The study examined 58 women who were given standard meals for the day prior to the study. They were then asked to fast for 12 hours before the study began. They filled out questionnaires to determine any depressive tendencies and their level of physical activity and then were asked about any stressors that occurred the day before.

The women were asked to participate in two study days. Thirty-one of the women reported that they'd experienced a stressor the day before the study at one of the study days, and 21 reported they'd had prior stressors on both study days. Only six women reported no stressors on both study days.

After the questionnaires were completed, the participants were asked to eat a meal of eggs, turkey sausage, biscuits, and gravy in 20 minutes. The calories and fat content of the meal were similar to that of a loaded two-patty hamburger and French fries. On one of the study days, the meal contained saturated fat, and on the other day it contained sunflower oil, which is high in monounsaturated fat.

The researchers thought that the saturated fat would have a more negative impact on the women's metabolisms, but they found that both meals had similar results. Those who had reported a stressor burned fewer calories and also experienced a spike in insulin for 90 minutes after consumption.

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The women who reported both a stressor and a history of depression also experienced a steeper rise in their triglycerides after eating. Higher levels of triglycerides can put you at risk of cardiovascular disease.

Clearly, it's wise to minimize stress in our lives. But that isn't always possible. So if you want to literally have your cake and eat it too without weight gain, reach for a low-fat meal or snack the day after exposure to stressors. Then eat your high-fat foods a few days later when you're no longer stressed.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


“Women's metabolism slowed by combination of stress and high-fat meals,” The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, Wednesday 16 July 2014.

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