0

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Is stress the underlying cause of junk food cravings?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created October 21, 2011 at 7:12 PM

From this question:

"...we crave junk because we need to feed the processes that are involved in inflammation...which is actually a protective mechanism for healing from these "fight or flight" bursts. The junk food, of course, causes more gut problems and eventually can start causing autoimmune problems as well.**"
- Dr Heather

It seems that specific cravings for sugar and other pro-inflammatory junk foods might exist for more of a reason than simply food reward. To a body under stress, such inflammatory substances may be perceived as beneficial to maintaining the inflammation.

Any thoughts?

Da3d4a6835c0f5256b2ef829b3ba3393

on November 14, 2011
at 05:52 PM

Hey! Didn't think of that. Fruity Pebbles = definitely paleo-approved.

Medium avatar

(2301)

on November 14, 2011
at 05:09 AM

upside down flint rubble bubble cake

Medium avatar

(2301)

on November 14, 2011
at 05:04 AM

I voted this up for "roots, shoots, and fruits"

9ffe43c6c5990ed710c7c49b12d6ee7f

on November 14, 2011
at 04:53 AM

Those aren't whispers. They're taunting you. You must destroy them.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on November 14, 2011
at 04:32 AM

@teaelf, the more I think about the question and what you said, this sounds like adrenaline response which releases a flood of blood glucose from glycogen in response to stress. Once that glucose is depleted there might be a craving for replenishment in the form of junk food. Stress leaves me feeling hungry, usually well after the event, for something more substantial than junk food. Stress also makes me want to throw a bowling ball.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on November 14, 2011
at 04:12 AM

Maybe boredom causes inflammation.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on November 14, 2011
at 04:10 AM

Fred Flintstone! Does this make them paleo?

Medium avatar

(10611)

on November 14, 2011
at 04:04 AM

Inflammation is measured using a C-Reactive Protein test and rises in response to an injury, especially severe burns. CRP is also useful for predicting reoccurrence of cardiac events. I don't think that eating junk food is a very likely response to elevated CRP. Maybe the author uses another test for inflammation. It would have been nice if she'd shared it.

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on October 22, 2011
at 06:24 PM

It's a lot stronger than preoccupied; think of the chain smoker who's climbing the walls for a smoke and that's a good picture of what I'm like when I'm upset. That's when I will get in my truck and drive to the store to get bad stuff, while usually all I have to do is keep it out of the house.

E5c7f14800c5992831f5c70fa746dc5c

(12857)

on October 21, 2011
at 11:23 PM

What do you consider junk food? Do you limit there fruit consumption? Your kids don't exercise? How old are they?

E5c7f14800c5992831f5c70fa746dc5c

(12857)

on October 21, 2011
at 11:22 PM

What do you consider junk food? Do you limit there fruit consumption? Your kids don't exercise?

Cc69a51b427eaad36251cce9dcca4d3a

(1074)

on October 21, 2011
at 10:35 PM

as a side note: i have noticed decreased thirst after becoming leptin sensitive and close to my ideal bodyweight. its almost like in the past, my inflamed body was craving nothing but ICE COLD drinks or water

Cc69a51b427eaad36251cce9dcca4d3a

(1074)

on October 21, 2011
at 10:32 PM

emotional could also just mean your brain is preoccupied with your thoughts/situations and lets off the self-discipline pedal

Fb67dc30cead043d1d13ea503a3044dc

(3280)

on October 21, 2011
at 08:35 PM

The body doesn't *want* to stay inflamed, ever. It's a stress/injury response that is supposed to be temporary, not chronic. Like adrenaline. And both are bad for you when sustained. The quote in the original post is weirdly twisted logic.

7d64d3988de1b0e493aacf37843c5596

(2861)

on October 21, 2011
at 08:25 PM

Yeah, it is probably hard to differentiate "crave" with "want" in children. I think children are particularly attracted to sweet things, and I think modern society reinforces it with all the sweet stuff they get exposed to at such young ages. I think with most junk food, a child in a hunter-gatherer tribe would quickly "learn" to prefer it once exposed to it, and I don't think stress would be involved.

Medium avatar

(19479)

on October 21, 2011
at 07:54 PM

Not saying that this is specifically the case with your family, but your response got me thinking. Would a child in a hunter-gatherer tribe crave junk food? They may crave fruit, honey, etc., but I think that we conflate "crave" with "want" and then confuse "want" with "need".

Medium avatar

(19479)

on October 21, 2011
at 07:43 PM

I don't think your body "wants" to maintain a hyper-inflammed state any more than it "wants" to repair a broken arm. A broken bone represents a serious survival threat, something that we "need" to try and repair. Similarly, damage on a cellular level (perhaps due to stress, diet, etc.) "needs" to be addressed. If you continue to cause damage, you will prolong the inflammation response.

E5c7f14800c5992831f5c70fa746dc5c

(12857)

on October 21, 2011
at 07:34 PM

When you break your arm and it becomes inflamed you don't get the sudden urge to go out and break it again though do you?

Fb67dc30cead043d1d13ea503a3044dc

(3280)

on October 21, 2011
at 07:26 PM

I find that for me, junk food is an underlying cause for junk food cravings. ;) Cliff, inflammation is a response to injury (like auto-splinting an injured finger), maybe that's where the odd logic is drawn from.

E5c7f14800c5992831f5c70fa746dc5c

(12857)

on October 21, 2011
at 07:23 PM

Why would your body want to maintain inflammation?

E5c7f14800c5992831f5c70fa746dc5c

(12857)

on October 21, 2011
at 07:22 PM

Why would we need inflammation to deal with stress? Sugar is anti stress because it refills liver glycogen and allows the body to deal with stress better.

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8 Answers

best answer

1
7d64d3988de1b0e493aacf37843c5596

(2861)

on October 21, 2011
at 07:47 PM

My young kids crave junk food while not really having any stress at all.

7d64d3988de1b0e493aacf37843c5596

(2861)

on October 21, 2011
at 08:25 PM

Yeah, it is probably hard to differentiate "crave" with "want" in children. I think children are particularly attracted to sweet things, and I think modern society reinforces it with all the sweet stuff they get exposed to at such young ages. I think with most junk food, a child in a hunter-gatherer tribe would quickly "learn" to prefer it once exposed to it, and I don't think stress would be involved.

E5c7f14800c5992831f5c70fa746dc5c

(12857)

on October 21, 2011
at 11:22 PM

What do you consider junk food? Do you limit there fruit consumption? Your kids don't exercise?

Medium avatar

(19479)

on October 21, 2011
at 07:54 PM

Not saying that this is specifically the case with your family, but your response got me thinking. Would a child in a hunter-gatherer tribe crave junk food? They may crave fruit, honey, etc., but I think that we conflate "crave" with "want" and then confuse "want" with "need".

E5c7f14800c5992831f5c70fa746dc5c

(12857)

on October 21, 2011
at 11:23 PM

What do you consider junk food? Do you limit there fruit consumption? Your kids don't exercise? How old are they?

3
3351f6c8ec1ea64435e419f380ca6468

(1255)

on October 21, 2011
at 09:06 PM

I think it certainly could be involved, but for me, it's when I get bored that the M&Ms and chips in the machine downstairs start whispering sweet nothings (literally!) in my ear.

Medium avatar

(10611)

on November 14, 2011
at 04:12 AM

Maybe boredom causes inflammation.

9ffe43c6c5990ed710c7c49b12d6ee7f

on November 14, 2011
at 04:53 AM

Those aren't whispers. They're taunting you. You must destroy them.

2
Medium avatar

(19479)

on October 21, 2011
at 07:39 PM

Assuming that our current knowledge is at least partially correct, "Inflammation is a protective attempt by the organism to remove the injurious stimuli and to initiate the healing process."

Directly from Wikipedia.com,

"Inflammation can be classified as either acute or chronic. Acute inflammation is the initial response of the body to harmful stimuli and is achieved by the increased movement of plasma and leukocytes (especially granulocytes ) from the blood into the injured tissues. A cascade of biochemical events propagates and matures the inflammatory response, involving the local vascular system, the immune system, and various cells within the injured tissue. Prolonged inflammation, known as chronic inflammation, leads to a progressive shift in the type of cells present at the site of inflammation and is characterized by simultaneous destruction and healing of the tissue from the inflammatory process."

So, what we may have here is another example of formerly adaptive biological processes (acute inflammation due to illness/injury) becoming maladaptive due to a novel environment ( chronic stress, impaired sleep, malnutrition, etc.)

I would say, however, that no one "needs" junk food any more than someone "needs" cocaine, alcohol, etc.

Craving carbohydrates may have been adaptive in the past, when all we would have had access to was roots, shoots, and fruits, but this also assumed that we either "fought" or "flew".

Getting yelled at by your boss, you kids having a melt-down and the grocery store, sitting in a traffic jam, etc. creates the same chemical cascade with none of the physical release of activity.

Stopping at McDonald's for a McFlurry may be the modern equivalent of pounding wild berries after outrunning a mountain lion, but we also have the capacity to use our intellect to override our instincts (at least some of the time).

Medium avatar

(2301)

on November 14, 2011
at 05:04 AM

I voted this up for "roots, shoots, and fruits"

1
Medium avatar

on November 14, 2011
at 04:05 AM

The word "the" in your question stops me cold. You didn't ask, Is stress "a" cause, as in: one of many possible, potential, causes.

I admit, the search for single, sole, all-explanatory "cause" (of Everything, or just Anything) continues to exert a certain pull on me as well.

But probably "junk food cravings" is not some singular thing, thus not caused by any singular thing.

Damn. Complexity is just so much more ... sobering.

1
0a0c8c37d3a56738dc017e4ff09f21ee

(480)

on October 21, 2011
at 08:59 PM

I think so! The more I read about cortisol going up and down at irregular intervals due to stress, the more revealing the vicious cycle is. Eating too much or too few carbs causes physiological stress. Really, though, nothing seems better than a nice big 'ol bowl of ice cream after a stressful day!

Even if stress didn't cause you to crave carbs, the increased cortisol levels will hurt your metabolism and sleep (which, is essential for the fat metabolizing process!)

Physiological stress, in my opinion, is more annoying than emotional stress. I love seeing myself lose weight, and I can easy manage my work so I'm not stressed on that end. It is ironic because stressful diets can lead to weight gain or lead to a condition which can result in weight gain or increased difficulty losing weight.

1
96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on October 21, 2011
at 07:31 PM

I can do very well for weeks or months but if something happens that really upsets me I remember the phrase "comfort food." It's sad but true that I turn to sugary/fatty/salty foods when I'm emotional.

Cc69a51b427eaad36251cce9dcca4d3a

(1074)

on October 21, 2011
at 10:32 PM

emotional could also just mean your brain is preoccupied with your thoughts/situations and lets off the self-discipline pedal

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on October 22, 2011
at 06:24 PM

It's a lot stronger than preoccupied; think of the chain smoker who's climbing the walls for a smoke and that's a good picture of what I'm like when I'm upset. That's when I will get in my truck and drive to the store to get bad stuff, while usually all I have to do is keep it out of the house.

0
Da3d4a6835c0f5256b2ef829b3ba3393

on November 14, 2011
at 12:55 AM

If I'm having a day where I didn't get enough sleep it oftens makes me a bit edgy. On days when I'm a bit edgy and in need of a nap, my appetite SOARS. (I don't have these days very often, but when I do it's crazy how it impacts my appetite.)

In years past, I'd eat an entire box of Fruity Pebbles. Now I simply eat a lot more meat with meals.

is-stress-the-underlying-cause-of-junk-food-cravings?

Medium avatar

(2301)

on November 14, 2011
at 05:09 AM

upside down flint rubble bubble cake

Medium avatar

(10611)

on November 14, 2011
at 04:10 AM

Fred Flintstone! Does this make them paleo?

Da3d4a6835c0f5256b2ef829b3ba3393

on November 14, 2011
at 05:52 PM

Hey! Didn't think of that. Fruity Pebbles = definitely paleo-approved.

0
Cc69a51b427eaad36251cce9dcca4d3a

(1074)

on October 21, 2011
at 10:34 PM

Crazy Question: what if we ate alot of pro-inflammatory carbs, then took an NSAID? LOL I've done this before lol and it feels like the carbs dont make me so on edge as much.

Cc69a51b427eaad36251cce9dcca4d3a

(1074)

on October 21, 2011
at 10:35 PM

as a side note: i have noticed decreased thirst after becoming leptin sensitive and close to my ideal bodyweight. its almost like in the past, my inflamed body was craving nothing but ICE COLD drinks or water

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