Reducing stress levels could lead to eating less junk food

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  • A new study found that lifestyle interventions designed to lower stress can have other benefits
  • After such an intervention, a group of overweight women ended up eating less fast food
  • The reason may be that when you're stressed, you don't pay attention to what you eat

A new secondary study aimed to see whether stress reduction created by a lifestyle intervention might also lead to a reduction in fat and fast-food intake in low-income, overweight mothers of young children.

Findings of the study show that the women ate less fast food after the intervention, not because they were told to do so, but because of their reduced stress levels. 

Cutting out stressors

US researchers conducted an analysis of data collected from a 16-week lifestyle intervention involving 338 obese and overweight mothers from low-income backgrounds.

Before the programme started, participants completed surveys that assessed their perceived stress levels, as well as their fat and fast food intakes. 

The programme involved preventing weight gain through encouraging stress management (time management and prioritising), eating well and increased physical activity.

“We used the women's testimonies in the videos and showed their interactions with their families to raise awareness about stressors. After watching the videos, a lot of intervention participants said, 'This is the first time I've realised I am so stressed out' – because they've lived a stressful life,” said Mei-Wei Chang, lead author of the study.

“Many of these women are aware of feeling impatient and having head and neck pain and trouble sleeping – but they don't know those are signs of stress.”

Focus more on what you eat

An analysis of the data showed that the lowered perceived stress after the intervention programme played a major role in the women eating less fast food. “It's not that these women didn't want to eat healthier,” Chang explained.

“If you don't know how to manage stress, then when you are so stressed out, why would you care about what you eat?”

The researchers said that their study highlights the crucial need for stress management (with practical examples) in lifestyle interventions aimed at reducing the intake of fat and fast-food.

“Everything needs to be practical and applicable to daily life – anytime, anywhere,” Chang said. 

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