Ever got home from a particularly stressful day at work to find yourself raiding the fridge or mindlessly eating biscuits before an important deadline?
If you have you're not alone. In the short-term, stress can cause us to lose our appetite due to the hypothalamus releasing the corticotropin hormone which suppresses appetite (the brain also triggers the release of adrenaline which puts the need to eat on hold).
However, in the long term, stress can actually have the opposite effect. When stress persists, our body releases cortisol which can lead to an increase in appetite. Many studies have shown that when we are stressed, we're much more likely to turn to high fat and high sugar foods to comfort us, a cycle which if repeated frequently could have negative consequences for our health.
However a new study recently published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise has found that there's one very easy thing you can do to help stop yourself from stress eating - exercise.
During the study, researchers asked undergraduate students to complete an exam. The students were divided into two groups. Following the exam, one group was given 15 minutes to rest, while the other group performed 15 minutes of high-intensity interval training on a treadmill.
In order to create a control condition, all the participants had spent 35 minutes simply relaxing the week before. While relaxing, students were told not to engage in any mentally or physically stimulating activities, such as reading, stretching or holding a conversation. Afterwards, each group was offered an unlimited pizza lunch (yum).
The participants who took the exam and then rested for 15 minutes ate an average of 100 calories more than when they simply relaxed without performing mental work (the control condition), whereas the participants who exercised after the exam ate 25 calories less than when they simply relaxed for 35 minutes and then ate.
So there you go - next time you've had a long and stressful day, hit the gym or your favorite class before eating, yet another reason to add to the list of why exercise is awesome!