of us reach straight for the chocolate when
we’re having a bad day, while for others,
any hassle puts them off food completely.
Leeds researchers are trying to work out why
people react in such different ways, in the
largest investigation into the effects of
stress on our eating habits.
Lead researcher Dr Darrell O’Connor
said: “We’re looking at day-to-day
stresses and hassles, anything from losing
a key, to a major disagreement with a boss
or fight with a partner. We’ll ask volunteers
log each stress or hassle and mark how severe
they think it is: stress is a psychological
construct and personal to each individual.”
Four hundred volunteers from across the city
will take part, filling out a diary –
listing meals, snacks and stresses –
over a four-week period. Researchers will
then categorise these stresses, as work-related,
interpersonal or ego-threatening, for example,
and assess if and how they contribute to a
change in diet.
“When people over-eat in response to
stress, it tends to be high fat, high sugar
snacks between meals, which are the most deleterious
to a healthy diet,” said Dr O’Connor.
“Some respond to emotional upset, or
anxiety, and others are what we call ‘external
eaters’: under stress they ignore internal
cues telling them they’re not hungry,
but respond to external cues, such as the
smell of baking or passing a sweet shop. Others
respond by under-eating. We hope to see some
of the factors which cause people to have
such different reactions.” The ESRC-funded
study runs until March 2005.
information is available on Campusweb