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How Emotions Affect Appetite, Taste

Ever sought solace in the fridge — or, conversely, lost your appetite — because of job woes or heartache? New research demonstrates how stress, and even clinical depression, can have a profound effect on your eating habits and consequently your health.

British researchers have uncovered a link between certain “happy” brain chemicals (like serotonin and noradrenalin) and taste sensitivity. When levels are elevated, test subjects report that they are better able to taste their food, leading scientists to hypothesize that clinical depression actually dulls sense of taste. The day may be coming when a taste test could help support a diagnosis of depression.

How might muted taste buds affect your eating behavior? For some, a dulled sense of taste could lead to overconsumption — whereas others might simply lose interest in the food that no longer tickles their taste buds. In either case, being watchful, even to the extent of keeping a food diary, could help prevent unwanted weight gain (or loss).

When it comes to stress, however, it seems that most folks (women and dieters in particular) react by increasing consumption of sweet, fatty foods. Another group of British researchers told test subjects to prepare a four-minute speech that would be filmed, after lunch. The result: Those with the speech assignment on their minds ate significantly more sweet, fatty foods than the control group (given no such speechwriting task).

Researchers at Montclair State University found that gender plays a role, with females under stress are more likely than men to over-consume sugary, high-fat foods. Being on a diet also makes a difference: 71% of dieters vs. 35% of non-dieters eat more unhealthy foods under stress.

Published January 1, 2007

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