You just have to admit it. Junk food is so hard to resist, even if you have the strongest will in the world. Just imagine the feeling of satisfaction when stuffing your face with a large piece of pizza, chocolate or ice cream after a tense day at work, or even better – during the weekend. Why does junk food taste so damn good?
Do people crave junk food because of their weak willpower ? There is actually a logical explanation for this. Scientists have shown that too much stress is actually a cause of junk food craving and overeating. This phenomenon is also known as “comfort eating” and it’s known that people over-eat because it makes them feel better – only temporarily.
Chronic stress causes the body to release more of the stress hormone cortisol. Constantly elevated levels of cortisol in the body lead to increase in hunger. In situations of increased stress our preferences for food are altered, and our body starts craving foods high in sugar and fat, according to Harvard scientists.
Stress also decreases the desire for exercise and affects the amount and quality of sleep we get. When we are chronically stressed we tend to avoid exercise and movement altogether.
The lack of sleep and exercise additionally feeds the process of binge eating and fat gain, according to scientists.
However, the researchers at the University of Alabama have found one of the things that will help break this cycle of craving junk foods and chronic stress.
According to the University, exercise plays a big role in counteracting the stress triggers that make people overeat on junk food and sugars.
“Exercise has the ability to increase available fuel sources in the body that may signal to the brain: ‘Here is the energy source I need, I don’t need to replenish it through food,'” the study’s lead author William H. Neumeier said.
The researchers did a study on 38 college students who were split into two groups. The first group were given a graduate-level entrance exam after which they had 15 minutes of rest. The second group did the same test but instead of resting they performed 15 minutes of high intensity interval training on a treadmill.
After the 15 minute period, both groups were given pizza and told they could eat how much they want. The group that completed both the exam and 15 minutes of high intensity exercise ate, on average, 100 calories less than the first group.
It is believed that the high intensity exercise suppresses hunger due to its effects on Ghrelin – the hormone that regulates hunger.
“Perhaps it’s the distraction that buffers the desire for food,” Neumeier suggested. “I think this will be highly applicable to a number of individuals who perform sedentary tasks that are mentally demanding but not physically demanding.”
It turns out that exercise can be a very effective tool for managing stress, as well as binge eating and junk food cravings.
So after a hard day at work, instead of stuffing yourself with a whole pizza in front of the TV, try doing a quick 15-20 minute intense workout and see if your desire for junk food is still as intense.