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Relax Already! - Researchers Say That Stress Leads to Compulsive Eating!

Ever get a chocolate craving? Well, if you’re a stressed out choco-loving lab mouse – you’ll brave electric shocks to satisfy your desire for chocolate.

Researchers at the Santa Lucia Foundation, Rome, Italy, are investigating how stressful experiences can change the way we eat – even to the point of compulsive eating, a phenomenon well illustrated by an experiment the team members performed with mice and chocolate.

The experiment:

  • The scientists divided a number of lab mice into 2 groups. One group of mice was denied food for a certain period (a stressful situation) and the other group of mice was fed normally.
  • The mice were then trained to enter into a certain room to get a chocolate snack, instead of another room which contained no snack. Not surprisingly, all mice learned to prefer the chocolate room.
  • Both groups of mice were then fed normally for a period so that all mice could achieve a normal weight and appetite.
  • The mice were again allowed access to the 2 rooms (one with chocolate, one without) but this time, entering the room with chocolate snacks earned the mice a mild electric shock.
  • Mice that had always been fed normally learned to avoid the chocolate room, foregoing the snack to avoid the pain, but mice that had previously been ‘stressed’ but that were now well fed, braved the pain to get the chocolate snack.

The researchers say that stressful situations can cause mice to eat compulsively, even when they experience harmful consequences from that consumption – a phenomenon that seems to match the experiences of people who eat compulsively, even though they suffer from their eating habits.

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