The Reporter
Issue 493, 27 October 2003
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Getting stressed about a healthy diet


Some 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.

Further information is available on Campusweb


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