Why stress makes you feel hungry for nice things

ghrelin the hunger hormoneDoes this ever happen to you ?

You fall into the house after a long and difficult day. You register that you are hungry, so you wander over to the fridge to find something to eat. Smiling at you, are a range of healthy options – an apple, a tub of yoghurt. But, all of these suggestions do not register as viable options to tame your hunger. You aren’t looking for real food, you’re hungry for nice things.

In my case, top of the nice things would be chocolate. But the definition of nice things could include ice cream, cookies or potatoe chips. By definition, the “nice things”, also known as comfort foods, are loaded with calories and not an ideal pre-dinner or in some cases, dinner, selection.


Blame the hormones

No, this has nothing to do with the female hormones which are typically blamed for most hormone problems. The “hungry for nice things” is caused by your gut hormones, otherwise known as incretins.

The incretin responsible for your problematic munching is ghrelin.

Ghrelins official role

Officially ghrelin is the hunger hormone. It is pumped out by the gastrointestinal tract when you haven’t eaten for sometime i.e. you’ve been “fasting”. It alerts your brain that the digestive system is empty and needs replenishment, instructing the brain to stop all other voluntary activities NOW, to feed it.

Stressed gut produces ghrelin

Two sets of mice were subjected to the equivalent of “mouse hell” by researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Centre. One set of mice had undergone a little genetic tinkering, whihungry for nice thingsch stopped them from being able to produce ghrelin, the other set were normal.

The mouse “hell day” involved having to shack up with a dominant “bully” mouse. Just like humans, close encounters with particularly obnoxious individuals wears down the nerves, leaving a very stressed out, unhappy mouse in its wake. At the end of the bullying attack – the mice were given an option to slip into a side chamber filled with pleasurable munchies.

The normal mice were quick to unwind, by slipping into the chamber of munchies, for a little pig out. The mice deficient in ghrelin stoically endured the trauma without compensatory grazing.

Ghrelin was the connection, between the stress and the munching in the mice.

Stressed out humans also munch

In the presence of stress hormones, the GUT just begins randomly sending the message “Feed me, feed me – NICE things, NOW” irrespective of whether it is truly hungry or not.

The GUT response is more than likely an attempt to restore a measure of sanity, by providing a truck load of calming nutrients such as tryptophan quickly. These feel good chemicals will lower the levels of anxiety and depression and relieve the STRESS.

Plan backfires when your life is STRESS

Flooding the body with feel good chemicals, via the gut, is a clever method to give you the ability to get through the stress of a particular rough day.

But when everyday is rough, it ends up switching the appetite into overdrive. Eating too much, of the “wrong” things, on a routine basis puts on the pounds.

Dial down the stressdial down stress

 So the good news is, that the burning desire to scoff down NICE food following a rough day is not an inditement of your weak willpower, but a hormone imbalance brought on by stress.

The bad news is, even if your boss is a bully – you need to find ways to shrug off the negative vibes, because eating to relieve stress, creates the stressful condition of hefa-lumpitis.

PS. If you can’t control the stress, for heaven sakes, hide the nice stuff away.

Ghrelin mediates stress-induced food-reward behavior in mice. Journal of Clinical Investigation, (2011) 121 (7) :2684-2692.  Jen-Chieh Chuang, Mario Perello, Ichiro Sakata, Sherri Osborne-Lawrence, Joseph M. Savitt, Michael Lutter, Jeffrey M. Zigman.

 Want to know more about the chemistry behind those extra pounds ?  

Subscribe to E-spoons, or free monthly newsletter, which shows you are to use chemistry to improve your health.

Know someone who will find this post useful ? Share it on facebook, linkedin, twitter

Further reading

organic potatoe chips shining
big thirst
bacteria leaving a stressful situation
Organic food is not health food per se Could your salt intake be making you fat ? Stress eruptions cause gut residents to flee

The 7 Big Spoons™…. are master switches that turn health on.

balance eicosanoids rein in insulin dial down stress sleep vitamin D microflora think
Balance Eicosanoids Rein in insulin Dial down stress Sleep ! Increase Vit D Culivate microflora Think champion

Hire Dr Sandy from a Spoonful of Science to be the keynote speaker at your next event.

Did you learn something new or do you have a different perspective ? I’d love to hear from you so post me a comment below…..

This entry was posted in Stress and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>