I've noticed in my gym that there are two time periods when the place gets a lot busier, just before the summer holidays and at the start of the New Year. Now, I’m not suggesting that people join a gym looking to get fit quickly and never come back after that, but year on year there is definitely a peak in numbers around these times.
Today was particularly busy; so busy in fact that almost every running machine was taken. I managed to find one and started running. I overheard the person next to me talking on her phone whilst exercising (that’s known in the trade as fitness multi-tasking!) explaining to someone that she needs to lose weight and is finding it hard. She explained that she is stressed at work and the one thing she does when she is stressed is comfort eat. That got me thinking of an article I read some time ago that suggested we make certain choices regarding the food we eat when we experience stress. Debra Zellner and her colleagues from Montclair State University found that stressed people were more likely to decide to eat M and Ms over healthy alternatives such as grapes. They suggested that when people generally get stressed they make a choice to eat non-healthy foods. You can read the summary of their paper here.
It seems the lady on the treadmill was right. When we get stressed we eat food that we know is not healthy and normally try to avoid. Perhaps we associate unhealthy food with a form of comforting? So, the next time you feel stressed make sure you have lots of fruit and vegetables to hand; otherwise you’ll be reaching for the chocolates!