A High-Fat Meal Can Decrease Metabolism After A Stressful Event
July 14, 2014

A High-Fat Meal Can Decrease Metabolism After A Stressful Event

[ Watch the Video: Stress, Comfort Foods Can Pack On Pounds In Women ]

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Feeling stressed? If you are, it could cause you to gain weight down the road.

According to a new study in the journal Biological Psychiatry, going through one or more stressful events the day prior to eating a single high-fat meal can decrease the body's metabolism and possibly lead to weight gain.

In the study, a team of scientists surveyed 58 women on the previous day's stresses before giving them a meal with 930 calories and 60 grams of fat. The scientists then assessed their metabolic rate via their respiration and measured blood sugar, insulin, triglycerides and the stress-related hormone cortisol.

On average, women who reported more than one stressor through the previous day burned over 100 fewer calories than non-stressed women within the seven hours that passed after consuming the high-fat meal, a change that could lead to weight gain of almost 11 pounds a year.

The stressed women also had greater levels of insulin, which plays a role in the storage of fat, and less fat oxidation, the transformation of large fat molecules into smaller molecules that can be utilized as fuel.

"This means that, over time, stressors could lead to weight gain," said study leader Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at The Ohio State University. "We know from other data that we're more likely to eat the wrong foods when we're stressed, and our data say that when we eat the wrong foods, weight gain becomes more likely because we are burning fewer calories."

Conducted primarily at Ohio State's Clinical Research Center, the study included women with an average age of 53. During their initial visit, women were surveyed and given three standardized meals to establish a dietary standard for 24 hours. Volunteers were told to fast for 12 hours before reporting for the next visit.

Upon the subsequent admission, women were surveyed about the previous day’s stress. The researchers found that 31 respondents said they had at least one previous day stressor on one visit and 21 cited stressors at both visits. Stressors included arguments, trouble with their children or work-related pressure. Six women didn’t report any stressor at either visit.

During the second appointment, some participants were given a meal of eggs, turkey sausage, biscuits and gravy, which they were told to eat within 20 minutes.

"This is not an extraordinary meal compared to what many of us would grab when we're in a hurry and out getting some food," Kiecolt-Glaser said.

For a control comparison to the meal high in saturated fat, other participants were given a meal high in monounsaturated fat, which is linked to a range of health benefits.

"We suspected that the saturated fat would have a worse impact on metabolism in women, but in our findings, both high-fat meals consistently showed the same results in terms of how stressors could affect their energy expenditure," said study author Martha Belury, professor of human nutrition at Ohio State.

The researchers found insulin in stressed women shot up right after the high-fat meal was eaten and then dropped to levels seen in non-stressed women after another 90 minutes. They also saw a link between a history of depression in some volunteers and a quicker jump in triglycerides after the meal.

"With depression, we found there was an additional layer. In women who had stress the day before and a history of depression, triglycerides after the meal peaked the highest," Kiecolt-Glaser said. "The double whammy of past depression as well as daily stressors was a really bad combination."

While stress and depression may be difficult factors to manage, the study team said their findings point to a need to keep healthy food options nearby during mentally strenuous periods.

"We know we can't always avoid stressors in our life, but one thing we can do to prepare for that is to have healthy food choices in our refrigerators and cabinets so that when those stressors come up, we can reach for something healthy rather than going to a very convenient but high-fat choice," Belury said.


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