Stress augments food 'wanting' and energy intake in visceral overweight subjects in the absence of hunger

Physiol Behav. 2011 May 3;103(2):157-63. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2011.01.009. Epub 2011 Jan 15.


Stress may induce eating in the absence of hunger, possibly involving changes in food reward, i.e. 'liking' and 'wanting'. The objective of this study was to assess the effects of acute psychological stress on food reward, and on energy intake, in visceral overweight (VO) vs. normal weight (NW) subjects. Subjects (27 NW, age=26 ± 9 yrs, BMI=22 ± 2 kg/m²; 15 VO, age=36 ± 12 yrs, BMI=28 ± 1 kg/m²) came to the university twice, fasted, for either a rest or stress condition (randomized cross-over design). Per test-session 'liking' and 'wanting' for 72 items divided in six categories (bread, filling, drinks, dessert, snacks, and stationery (control)) were measured twice, each time followed by a wanted meal. Appetite profile (visual analogue scales, VAS), heart rate, mood state and level of anxiety (POMS/STAI questionnaires) were measured. High hunger and low satiety (64 ± 19, 22 ± 20 mmVAS) confirmed the fasted state. Elevated heart rate, anger and confusion scores (p ≤ 0.03) confirmed the stress vs. rest condition. Consumption of the first meal decreased hunger, increased satiety, and decreased ranking of 'liking' of bread vs. increased ranking of 'liking' of the control (p<0.001). 'Wanting' for dessert and snacks, energy intake, carbohydrate and fat intake for the second meal stress vs. rest relatively increased in VO vs. decreased in NW (p<0.02). During stress vs. rest VO showed a 6 ± 9% increase in percentage of daily energy requirements consumed over the two meals (p=0.01). To conclude, visceral overweight subjects showed stress-induced food intake in the absence of hunger, resulting in an increased energy intake.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Appetite / physiology*
  • Energy Intake / physiology*
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / physiology
  • Food Preferences / psychology
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hunger / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Overweight / physiopathology*
  • Overweight / psychology
  • Reward
  • Satiation / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology