When stressed, people seek out to eat foods which they don't really eat everyday, regardless of how healthy or unhealthy it is, a new study on 'stress eating' revealed.
The research co-authored and presented by David Neal, Ph.D., a psychologist and founding partner at Empirica Research, contradicts the conventional wisdom that people who are stressed-out turn to high-calorie, low-nutrient comfort food.
"Habits don't change in a high-pressure situation," Neal said.
"People default to what their habits are under stress, whether healthy or not," he said.
In the study he and his co-authors conducted this year, 59 MBA students at the University of California, Los Angeles, were asked during midterm exams which snack they would like from an array that included healthy snacks (fruit, non-fat yogurt, whole wheat crackers, nuts/soy chips) and unhealthy options (various candy bars, flavored popcorn, sugar cookies). They also were asked to rate how often during the week they choose that snack.
The results found that during peak stress like an exam, participants were likely to fall back on their habitual snack.
"Habits are 45 percent of daily life," Neal said.
"They cause us to disregard rational or motivational drivers and instead be cued by context, automated actions, time pressure and low self-control," he added.