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Comfort eating could be a myth as feeling stressed is not what pushes people to binge-eat – study

Binge-eating is not caused by stress-induced impulsivity, according to experts.

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Jiya Saini
Jiya Saini is a Journalist and Writer at Revyuh.com. She has been working with us since January 2018. After studying at Jamia Millia University, she is fascinated by smart lifestyle and smart living. She covers technology, games, sports and smart living, as well as good experience in press relations. She is also a freelance trainer for macOS and iOS, and In the past, she has worked with various online news magazines in India and Singapore. Email: jiya (at) revyuh (dot) com

Stress affects activity in the brain – but it isn’t responsible for the urge to overeat, suggests the study.

Binge-eating is a hallmark symptom of several eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia.

People who binge-eat can feel out of control and unable to stop, and often binge after stressful events.

This led scientists to wonder whether stress damages parts of the brain which are responsible for inhibitory control.

This refers to people’s ability to stop what you are about to do or currently doing – and can trigger eating.

Study author Dr Margaret Westwater, of the University of Cambridge, said: “Binge-eating is not caused by stress-induced impulsivity.”

“Stress alters brain activity in inhibition network but doesn’t prompt binge-eating, contrary to theory.”

The team tested this theory by using fMRI to measure the brain activity of women with anorexia, bulimia, or without an eating disorder as they completed tasks either while stressed or relaxed.

In the task, the women pushed a button to stop a moving bar when it reached a specific point on the screen.

On some trials the bar stopped early, and the participants had to prevent themselves from pushing the button.

Dr Westwater said: “Stress altered the brain activity associated with inhibitory control in both groups of women with eating disorders but had no effect on task performance, meaning they still had the ability to stop their actions.”

These results indicate self-inhibition is preserved in the face of stress.

So the actual mechanism behind binge-eating is more complex than previously thought.

The research was published in the journal JNeurosci.

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