Real Life. Real News. Real Voices.
Help us tell more of the stories that matter from voices that too often remain unheard.
Join HuffPost Plus

What this Rat Study can Teach Us About Stress Eating

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

What would your life look like if you didn't obsess about food, eating, dieting, or weight?

Today we're talking rat studies and how they can help you make a difference in the way you view your current eating and exercise regimines.

There are several very interesting scientific studies like this one that link habitual overeating and binge eating and other disordered eating patterns to dieting and restriction.

In this particular study, there were a cage of rats whose food intake was restricted (aka- on a diet) and then there was a separate cage of rats whose food intake was not restricted- these rats were free to eat as much as they liked.

Both cages of rats were given a mild shock that put them into a stress response. All the rats were given unlimited access to food again after being shocked.

And guess who ate more? YUP. The rats who were restricted and stressed ate 40% more than they originally did before their food intake was restricted- AKA- before they were put on a diet.


The stressed rats who were not put on a restrictive eating regimen ate the exact same amount despite being put into a stress response.

Now, just so we're clear-

I'm not telling you this because I'm a sicko who likes to read about innocent creatures being shocked.

I'm telling you this because it's a biological fact that when we restrict our food intake- (be it in the form of carb, calories, fat or points),

the minute we are exposed to a stressful event (aka- our kid coming home with a crappy report card, an off-color remark from a friend, or a public scolding from our boss at the meeting)

the combination of stress & restriction will come back to bite us in the butt!

Since the rats who were fed a normal diet ate the exact same when they were put into a stress response,

This tells us that there was ONE factor that drove those little creatures into a rat-binge:

Restriction AKA Dieting.

And, since stress is an inevitable part of our human exsistance, dieting is ironically the thing that leads us to Emotional Eating!

Crazy right?

Think about it;

How many people do you know who never go on diets, have a disordered relationship with food?

The answer is: NO ONE.

*Do you ever see or hear about them binge eating?

No- why would they need to when there's no restriction on the horizon?

*When they're sad do they polish off a pint of ice cream?

Nope. They don't use food to soothe their emotions because (as the rat study above indicates) restriction fuels Emotional Eating.

No Restriction=No Emotional Eating.

*Do you ever hear them lamenting about having dessert last night?

Again, no- they allow themselves to eat foods they like to satisfaction and don't ever think about it again after they're done eating.

*Do they eat twelve dozen cookies from the tray in the lounge when they think nobody's looking?

Nope again- that would make them physically uncomfortable and normal eaters avoid that feeling when they can. Plus- they know they can have cookies whenever they want, so there's no need to over eat them.

*Do they ever make the comment "I can't believe I ate that!" or "Diet starts tomorrow!"

Nopeady, Nope, & Nay.

Dieting sucks- why would they want to put themselves through torture?

They don't do these things not because they don't care about their health or body-

but because they just don't think about food and eating that much.

They think about it as they start to feel hungry and then those thoughts stop once they reach a healthy level of satisfaction.

Then the thoughts about food go away until they get hungry again.

That's it. There's no secret formula.

Like everybody else- they still encounter stress, they still like to eat their favorite foods just as much as you, they just don't worry about dieting after eating them.

Now, to be fair:

Most of these people are naturally thin and have never dieted because they've never had need to.

But I'd like to point out that 95% people who DO diet, lose some weight and then cheat on their diet (because of a stressful life event coupled with a food-abundant environment), gain it all back (and more) within a year.

What a waste of time, worry, and grey matter!

This is the cycle that many of us are trapped in and the only way to get out of it is to stop dieting all together.

Once you learn how to eat a meal without worrying running to a diet to save you from the throws of binge eating,

You'll be free.

Once restriction and deprivation stops, once you start to trust and answer your body's signals for amounts and kinds of food-

Your body will trust you again, it'll stop holding on to fat and will return to the natural size it was meant to be.

Our bodies are pretty neat that way.

Give it a try this Holiday Season. Listen to your hunger and fullness signals, see what foods make you foggy, notice what's going on when you get that urge to eat when you're not hungry.

Become mindful and then sit back and enjoy the benefits and report back to let me how it goes for you! Leave a comment below- I'm anxiously awaiting your response!


Maureen, CHC, CIEC