Eating a high-fat meal after a stressful day can slow a woman’s metabolism, potentially contributing to higher weight gain, according to a US study out Monday.
Researchers at the Ohio State University interviewed 58 women with an average age of 53 about the previous day’s stressors, such as arguments with co-workers or spouses, disagreements with friends, trouble with children or work-related pressures.
Each participant then ate a meal of eggs, turkey sausage, biscuits and gravy that totalled 930 calories and 60 grams of fat, similar to meals of hamburgers and fries offered at a fast-food restaurant. They were required to eat the entire meal within 20 minutes.
Then the researchers measured the participants’ metabolic rate, or how long it took the women to burn calories and fat, and took measures of blood sugar, triglycerides, insulin and the stress hormone cortisol.
On average, the women in the study who reported one or more stressors during the previous 24 hours burned 104 fewer calories than non-stressed women in the seven hours after eating the high- fat meal, a difference that could result in weight gain of almost 11 pounds (about 5 kilograms) in one year.
The stressed women also had higher levels of insulin, which contributes to the storage of fat, and less fat oxidation, the conversion of large fat molecules into smaller molecules that can be used as fuel.
“This means that, over time, stressors could lead to weight gain,” lead author Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at the Ohio State University, said in a statement.
“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.”
The researchers are reluctant to extend these findings to men because men tend to have more muscle than women, which would affect their metabolic rate, but the findings do offer one more motivation to keep healthful foods nearby.
“We know we can’t always avoid stressors in our life,” said co- author Martha Belury, professor of human nutrition at Ohio State. “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.”