Stress and Food Consumption

When you are stressed do you tend to eat everything in sight, in a mindless mechanical way?


Or are you on the opposite side of the scale, not hungry, and too stressed to eat a thing, and just happen to nibble 3,000 calories’ worth of food a day. And those of us who really can’t eat a thing. Except for chocolate-chocolate chip hot fudge sundaes. With whipped cream and nuts.


The official numbers are that stress makes about two-thirds of people hyperphagic (eating more) and the rest hypophagic.

So we can conclude with scientific certainty that stress can alter appetite. Which doesn’t teach us a whole lot, since it doesn’t tell us whether there’s an increase or decrease.


It turns out that there are ways to explain why some of us become hyper- and others hypophagic during stress.

During a stressor, appetite and energy storage are suppressed, and stored energy was mobilized. Thus, what’s the logic during the post-stress period?


Obviously to recover from that, reverse those processes.


Block the energy mobilization, store the nutrients in your bloodstream, and get more of them. Appetite goes up. This is accomplished through some endocrinology that is initially fairly confusing, but is actually really elegant.


The confusing issue is that one of the critical hormones of the stress-response stimulates appetite, while another inhibits it.

The type of stressor is key to whether the net result is hyper- or hypophagia. Take some crazed, maze-running rat of a human.

He sleeps through the alarm clock first thing in the morning, total panic. Calms down when it looks like the commute isn’t so bad today, maybe he won’t be late for work after all.


Gets panicked all over again when the commute then turns awful. Calms down at work when it looks like the boss is away for the day and she didn’t notice he was late.


Panics all over again when it becomes clear the boss is there and did notice. So it goes throughout the day. And how would that person describe his life?