Studies look at binge eating |

Studies look at binge eating

William Ferchland

Photo illustration by Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / One study states how stress coupled with dieting can result in binge eating, a common phenomenon during the holiday season.

Those dieting and stressed this holiday season can look to laboratory rats for a forecast into eating habits.

Two studies released earlier this month revealed how stress, deprivation and exposure to tasty foods resulted in binge eating, which is considered an eating disorder.

Dr. Mary Boggiano, a neuroscience psychologist at the University of Alabama, led a study on how the brain rewards a person eating by releasing endorphins and how it changes with stress and dieting.

“Binge eating is normal,” she said. “It’s your brain’s best way to respond to expected starvation. It’s restrictive dieting and stressing so much about your body weight and shape that is abnormal.”

With traditional food holidays like Thursday’s Thanksgiving and Christmas bearing down, Boggiano said many people feel stressed by the presence of family and the nature of the season. Coupled with many Americans dieting at a particular time – a 2004 survey by the Calorie Control Council determined one-third of adult Americans are dieting – and calorie overload can occur.

The study using laboratory rats found when they were stressed via electronic shocks to the feet and had their calories restricted, the rats ate double the amount of Oreo cookies and other food they were given.

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Boggiano advised people to eat a healthy, low-fat breakfast before munching on holiday fare.

“People will consume more calories if they skipped breakfast and lunch just to eat the Thanksgiving meal,” she said.

Sharon Elliott, the health promotions division manager for the El Dorado County Public Health Department, said people should focus more on the festivities of the holiday instead of the food.

Enjoying leftovers to help spread out the consumption of food also is good eating, she said.

“It’s going to be easier on your waistline and on your overall health if you can spread out the enjoyment,” Elliott said.

With November’s sunny conditions, Elliott also advised exercise to help avoid considering a diet as a New Year’s resolution.

“Anytime you can get out and exercise it will help with stress and burn extra calories and put you in a better place come Jan. 1,” she said.