Research Confirms It's A Bad Idea To Shop On An Empty Stomach
May 7, 2013

Research Confirms It’s A Bad Idea To Shop On An Empty Stomach

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

According to the age old axiom, it´s always a bad idea to visit the grocery store on an empty stomach. It´s said this leads to intense bouts with indecision or a shopping cart crammed full with all manner of high calorie foodstuffs.

Researchers at Cornell University have now proven this piece of common wisdom true in a study which found that hungry people are more likely to skip healthier options at the grocery store and go straight for the fat, salt and sugar.

Researchers now say it´s best to go into a grocery store with something on the stomach to avoid making poor food decisions.

Brian Wansink is the director of the Food and Brand Lab (FABL) at Cornell University and led this study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine online May 6. Wansink and his team of researchers asked 68 participants to fast for five hours before coming in to the lab to begin the tests. Half of the participants were told they could eat as many wheat crackers as they wanted when they arrived at the lab. The other half of the participants were told to stay hungry.

Next, the 68 volunteers were asked to go shopping in an online grocery store which offered a mixture of high calorie and low calorie foods. For instance, this online store carried candy, salty snacks and red meat for high calorie offerings as well as fruits and vegetables, chicken breasts and other lower calorie options. The hungriest of the participants were more likely to buy the high calorie foods, picking up 5.7 “bad foods” on average. The group which loaded up on wheat crackers before shopping only bought 3.9 high calorie items a piece on average.

To corroborate these results, Wansink and team gathered a new group of 82 volunteers and put them to the ultimate test: shopping in a real-world grocery store. Again the researchers split the group in half and asked one set of volunteers to go shopping between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., a period of time when the researchers say people are most likely to have some sort of lunch in their stomachs.

The second group of volunteers was asked to shop between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., when the researchers said the participants we´re most likely to be hungry.

Once all the shoppers had picked their items, the researchers noted that the hungriest shoppers bought an average of 11 high calorie products compared to the eight high-cal products purchased by the less-hungry participants.

"Even short-term food deprivation can lead to a shift in choices such that people choose less low-calorie, and relatively more high-calorie, food options,” according to a study statement.

Endocrinologist Tony Goldstone from Imperial College London (ICL) told Reuters Health that these findings make a lot of sense.

“The body is always trying to defend its state and it makes very logical sense that if you´re going for a period without food, and you´re wanting food, you´re more likely to go for the food that´s high-calorie,” said Goldstone. “If we´re needing energy, we´re not going to go out for lettuce.”

Though he agrees with the premise of the study, Goldstone also mentioned that the researchers´ assumption that people are hungry later in the day means the study should be approached with a grain of salt.

In closing, Wansink says the best way to avoid binge shopping is to have something on your stomach before you head to the market.

“Make sure you don´t skip a meal, or at least have a snack like apples or string cheese in your office,” said Wansink in a statement, noting that skipping meals can also be dangerous. “Breakfast is the most skipped meal, and even having something for lunch that has protein will cut your hunger edge.”