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Five Sobering Facts About Ghrelin And Emotional Eating



sharma-obesity-emotionsHave you ever wondered about why some people turn to food when stressed while others don’t?

Now, a study by Kate Raspopow and colleagues from Carlton University, Ottawa, published in Appetite provides some important new insights.

The study was conducted in 103 undergraduate women who completed measures of emotional eating, were assigned to anticipate either a stressful (public speaking) or non-stressful event.

Here are the main findings:

1. Anticipation of the stressor increased cortisol and ghrelin secretion in all participants.
2. Emotional eaters displayed lower basal ghrelin levels compared to non-emotional eaters.
3. Emotional eaters did not display a postprandial decrease of ghrelin levels.
4. Emotional eaters ate more than non-emotional eaters irrespective of stressor condition.
5. Percent body fat mediated the relationship between emotional eating and basal ghrelin.

As the authors note,

“The similarity of the ghrelin profile of emotional eaters to that of binge eaters and obese individuals, raises the possibility that disturbed ghrelin response might be a risk factor for such conditions.”

As the best way to suppress ghrelin is by not letting yourself go hungry (weight loss regularly increases ghrelin levels), regular eating to avoid hunger may be a particularly important weight management strategy in emotional eaters.

Clinically, I can certainly attest to the impression that emotional eaters appear far more prone to loss-of-control when restricting their food intake than non-emotional eaters.

On the other hand this study also shows the importance of stress in this response. Clearly, better stress-coping skills may well lead to less emotional eating.

I wonder if a “relax and eat more” strategy may ultimately help emotional eaters eat less?

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

Kate Raspopow is a CON Obesity Research Bootcamp Graduate – for more on the Bootcamp – click here.

ResearchBlogging.orgRaspopow K, Abizaid A, Matheson K, & Anisman H (2014). Anticipation of a psychosocial stressor differentially influences ghrelin, cortisol and food intake among emotional and non-emotional eaters. Appetite, 74, 35-43 PMID: 24295926

 

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10 Comments

  1. Hi Arya
    I love it when you post about this type of study, i.e. one that really helps us to understand why weight gain occurs in the first place. I guess I owe you that beer now.

    Erik Hemmingsson
    Karolinska Institutet

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  2. After years of being told to ‘eat less/exercise more’ – it’s so wonderful to finally be understood and that it’s not that simple. I can imagine there are many others in the same situation who have belittled themselves into thinking they are bad people because they have no self control. How refreshing to know that obesity is a complex issue, that it’s not all physical, and that there are a lot of psychological issues to deal with as well.

    Dr. Sharma, thank you!

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  3. Sounds like the safest strategy for those of us over 60 to try.

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  4. I love these posts too. I am studying pediatric obesity. Could we meet to discuss how to help patients reduce stress? I have some ideas.

    Kerri

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  5. “Clinically, I can certainly attest to the impression that emotional eaters appear far more prone to loss-of-control when restricting their food intake than non-emotional eaters.”

    Sorry for the possibly dumb question, but isn’t that pretty much the definition of an emotional eater (being prone to loss-of-control)?

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  6. That last point — percent body fat mediated the relationship between emotional eating and basal ghrelin — isn’t touched on in the discussion. So, mediated how?

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  7. Do you mean that they become even more prone to loss-of-control?
    Like, the gap between emotional eaters and non-emotional eaters increases under restriction of food intake?

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