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Stress Eaters May Benefit From Positive Feedback

Update Date: Oct 31, 2013 03:59 PM EDT

There are two types of eaters when it comes to being overwhelmingly stressed, the ones who lose their appetite and the ones who crave sweet and salty snacks. We have perceived stress eaters are the ones who gain the most weight, but a new study said this is not necessarily true because their eating habits change when they are not under stress. 

"Stress eaters should not be considered at risk to gain weight by default," lead researcher Gudrun Sproesser of the University of Konstanz, in Germany, said in a news release. "Our results suggest the need for a dynamic view of food intake across multiple situations, positive and negative."

For the study researchers had participants talk to a person they never met via video first. They were asked to then make their own videos in which others would respond through a message whether they did not want to meet with them after viewing the video or they liked them and did want to meet them. Researchers told a third group that the experiment had been cancelled.  

Participants were then asked to engage in an "unrelated" study that involved a taste test for three ice cream flavors.

"The results showed that, when faced with negative feedback, self-identified munchers ate more ice cream than participants in the control group, while self-identified skippers ate less," reported the Association for Psychological Science. "Munchers ate, on average, about 120 more calories' worth of ice cream than did the skippers."

However, researchers found that when given positive news, stress eaters ate less than the control group and those who usually lost their appetite during stressful events ate more. According to the study, the skippers ate an average worth of 74 calories' more than the stress eaters.

"We predicted that munchers and skippers differ in food intake after experiencing a positive situation," said Sproesser. "However, we were rather surprised that the data showed an almost mirror image in ice cream consumption when compared to the data from the social exclusion condition."

Researchers believe that this finding tells more to the association that stress eating is an indicator of weight gain.

"Furthermore, our findings suggest rethinking the recommendation to regulate stress eating," said Sproesser. "Skipping food when being stressed may cause additional stress in munchers and could possibly disturb compensation across situations." 

The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.

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