Loud Noise, Stress May Prompt Women to Eat
Thu Jul 1, 2004
by Dan Lewerenz, Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - A study published in the current issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that even after a stressful day has ended, women who were more frustrated by it ate more fatty foods than those who weren't as frustrated.

"A lot of studies have looked at what happens during stress," said Laura Cousino Klein, assistant professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State University, who led the study. "What we wanted to know is what happens after the stress is over."

Klein and her colleagues presented their subjects with a variety of tasks over the course of 25 minutes while randomly blasting them with office sounds — a phone ringing, a typewriter clacking — at 108 decibels, the same volume as standing next to a jackhammer.

After that time was up, the subjects were left alone for 12 minutes with a magazine, some water and a tray of snacks — fatty cheese, potato chips and white chocolate, and lowfat popcorn, pretzels and jelly beans.

Subjects then were asked to trace their way through an unsolvable maze. Those women whose stress level was the highest — their blood pressure and heart rate remained high, and they quickly showed frustration with the maze — also tended to eschew the lowfat snacks in favor of fattier treats.

Women who were highly frustrated by the noise stress ate 65 to 70 grams of the fatty snacks during the break, twice as much as the women who weren't as frustrated.

"What's interesting is that during the noise, during the work time, people rise to the occasion," Klein said. "They accomplish the job they have to get done, and they do quite well at it. They block all the other things that are going on in their environment.

"But there's a psychological and mental cost to that, and what that is is that after that's over, once the stressor is done, then we see this behavioral element."

Klein said a corollary can be seen most weekends, when people are most likely to binge drink or stray from their diets.

The study result didn't surprise William Kelley Jr., director of the Wellness Center at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt.

"Your body doesn't stop dealing with a stressor just because the stressor is no longer in place," Kelley said. "You're still processing an event long after it happens."

Dr. Christopher Still, director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Geisinger Medical Center ini Danville, Pa., said knowing that the stress effects can be long lasting can help people anticipate that reaction and find other ways to deal with stress, such as exercise.

One surprising finding: Despite the dramatic difference among women, men made the same snack preferences, eating about 40 grams of fatty snacks, regardless of their stress levels.

Klein said the difference might be in the way men and women handle stress, an idea Kelley agreed with.

"I definitely have seen the same thing, and I want to be careful how I word that because I don't want to start a gender debate," Kelley said. "But the men that I usually see are sort of, 'It happened, it's over, let's deal with it and move on,' whereas the women tend to struggle more with the processing time of an event afterward. I'm not sure if that's genetic programming or society."