A study conducted by Ohio State University correlates stressful events the day before eating a single high fat meal with a change in the body’s metabolism. The research was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry and examined the impact of chronic stressors on metabolic rate.
The stressed women on average burned 104 fewer calories than non stressed women in the seven hours after eating the high fat meal and had higher levels of insulin contributing to the storage of fat and less oxidation (conversion of large fat molecules into smaller molecules used as fuel).
“This means that, over time, stressors could lead to weight gain,” said Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study. “We know from other data that we’re more likely to eat the wrong foods when we’re stressed, and our data say that when we eat the wrong foods, weight gain becomes more likely because we are burning fewer calories.”
Previous research studies have shown that people who experience stress and other mood disruptions are at higher risk of becoming overweight or obese. This study, the researchers say, appears to illustrate at least one mechanism behind that connection.
The study examined 58 women, average age 53. The participants were asked to complete several questionnaires to assess their depressive symptoms and physical activity and were interviewed about stressful events on the prior day. Thirty-one women reported at least one prior day stressor on one visit and 21 reported stressors at both visits. Six women reported no stressors. The reported stress was interpersonal in nature: arguments with co-workers or spouses, disagreements with friends, trouble with children or work-related pressures.
The high fat research meal consisted of eggs, turkey sausage, biscuits and gravy and study participants were required to eat the entire meal within 20 minutes.
“This is not an extraordinary meal compared to what many of us would grab when we’re in a hurry and out getting some food,” said Kiecolt-Glaser, also director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine at Ohio State.
The control for comparison in this randomized trial was that one meal contained saturated fat and another was high in a different kind of fat: sunflower oil containing monounsaturated fat, which is associated with a variety of health benefits.
“We suspected that the saturated fat would have a worse impact on metabolism in women, but in our findings, both high-fat meals consistently showed the same results in terms of how stressors could affect their energy expenditure,” said Martha Belury, professor of human nutrition at Ohio State and a co-author of the study.
“We know we can’t always avoid stressors in our life, but one thing we can do to prepare for that is to have healthy food choices in our refrigerators and cabinets so that when those stressors come up, we can reach for something healthy rather than going to a very convenient but high-fat choice,” Belury said.
Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, Diane L. Habash, Christopher P. Fagundes, Rebecca Andridge, Juan Peng, William B. Malarkey, Martha A. Belury. Daily Stressors, Past Depression, and Metabolic Responses to High-Fat Meals: A Novel Path to Obesity. Biological Psychiatry, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.05.018