Stress-Eaters Don’t Get Pleasure from Stress-Eating, So You May Want To Re-Think That King-Sized Kit Kat Bar

I am a stress-eater; if I have a long paper, a looming deadline, or a large decision in front of me, then nine times out of 10 I will reach for junk food to make me feel a bit better. However, according to new research from the University of Geneva, eating under duress actually isn’t that gratifying; in fact, stress-eaters don’t get pleasure from stress-eating.

A new study published by the American Psychological Association examines the link between stress-induced desire for reward, and the gratification that comes from that reward, which in this case was the classic stress food chocolate. For the experiment, researchers chose 36 subjects who all said that they love chocolate. These subjects were then divided into two groups. To induce stress, one group was asked to keep a hand immersed in ice-cold water while being observed and video taped, while the other group was asked to keep a hand in lukewarm water. Exactly 10 minutes before and 30 minutes after the assignment, researchers took saliva samples from each participant to measure their levels of cortisol, a hormone involved in stress response.

After the “stress conditioning,” all participants were asked to squeeze a handgrip when they say a certain symbol in order to smell chocolate. The researcher asked the subjects how pleasant they found the cocoa odor, and measured how much effort each participant exerted to get a whiff. Overall, they found that while stress made some subjects use three times as much effort to smell the chocolate, those subjects got the same amount of enjoyment from the smell as their non-stressed counter parts. Lead author of the study Eva Pool observed, “While stress increases our desire to indulge in rewards, it does not necessarily increase the enjoyment we experience.” So even though stress increases our desire and perhaps need for a delicious reward, the reward won’t be more enjoyable simply because we worked hard for it.

Does this mean that I will stop stress eating anytime soon? Probably not…chocolate is delicious whether or not you’re stressed out. But it’s good to know what is and isn’t an effective method for dealing with stressful situations. So next time you’re on a deadline and reach for a bag of Cheetos, know that they might not be as gratifying as you expect.