Why do we do it? Stress tends to make most of us eat more. We’re tempted everywhere we go with images of food. And, okay for the moment it can taste really good!
Scientists are starting to understand how stress-related junk-food craving works. Stress can increase the release of “endogenous opioids” in some regions of the brain. These neurotransmitters resemble opiates in their structure and addictive properties. This helps to reinforce the desire for junk food at certain times.
Stress can also help to switch on the “endocannabinoid” system in the brain. There’s actually a class of chemicals in the brain that resemble the ingredient in cannabis that links pot to getting the “munchies”. And stress can activate another brain chemical called neuropeptide Y that can stimulate the craving for sugar and fat. Stress may also activate other behaviors, like shopping for some people, or listening to music for others.
While there are lots of possibilities for looking to find comfort, some people like eating junk food – which isn’t great for one’s health. As Robert Sapolsky points out, it’s a sign of our evolutionary legacy that, at the end of a stressful day far fewer of us will read a book of poems than dig into a pint of double fudge brownie ice cream. Hopefully though, recognizing the patterns will help us to be better able to control the urge……. wsj.com 9/13/13