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    Technology

    New study finds friends may protect against stress eating

    Support from loved ones helps overcome “comfort eating”

    Research published in the journal Nutrients sheds light on an interesting facet of human behavior: the role of social support in mitigating the effects of stress-induced overeating . The analysis found that participants who received support from friends reported feeling less stressed, choosing smaller meals and consuming fewer snacks during periods of acute stress.

    Photo: unsplash.com

    Stress-induced overeating, commonly referred to as “comfort eating,” — is a behavioral response in which people consume foods in excess, especially those high in calories, fat, or high in sugar, to cope with emotional stress or discomfort. It is believed that this behavior allows you to temporarily get rid of stress, experiencing a feeling of relief and satisfaction from a pleasant meal. However, while this may seem like a harmless way to cope with stress, it can result in significant health risks in the long term, including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

    Researchers wanted to identify potential strategies for mitigating unhealthy eating habits , focusing on preventive measures that can be integrated into daily life. In particular, they sought to better understand the role of social support as a potential protective agent against overeating in response to stress. To this end, they conducted two experiments.

    In their study, researchers recruited 138 participants through campus advertising and a digital research platform. They were predominantly young, with a higher proportion of women, reflecting the college-age demographic.

    Participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups: those who received support from a best friend, support from a stranger, a group that was instructed to self-regulate without specific instructions, and a control group that received no specific instructions. The friend group was unique in that participants were asked to bring their best friend, who was not in a romantic relationship with them, to provide support.

    The experimental procedure consisted of several stages, starting with basic measurements of stress, hunger and emotional state. Participants were then subjected to a stress-resistance task designed to increase stress levels evenly. This was achieved through a simulated public speaking task. Once the situation was created, support sessions were conducted that varied depending on the purpose of the group. The session concluded with participants selecting portions from a variety of high- and low-calorie foods.

    The researchers found that participants who received support from their friends reported significantly lower levels of perceived stress and chose smaller portions of both high- and low-calorie foods compared to their counterparts in the other three groups.

    The second experiment, which involved 136 people, examined actual food intake after stress and maintenance manipulations. The design was similar, with participants divided into the same four groups. However, this experiment introduced a food delay task and a mock tasting task to measure not only preference but also actual consumption of high-calorie versus low-calorie foods under stress.

    The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that that social support can lead to a reduction in overeating.

    Scientists have concluded that emotional and cognitive support provided by friends plays a critical role in reducing the appeal of food as a means of coping with stress. This mechanism appears to be associated with improved emotional well-being, with participants feeling more able to cope with stress in a healthy way and less likely to seek comfort in food.

    «The present study identifies mechanisms by which Social support influences stress- and overeating-related behavior. It also points to an important protective factor for people's physical and mental health in today's unpredictable social environment, and also provides ideas for therapeutic interventions in clinical eating disorders.” the researchers concluded.

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