Could our Taste Buds Explain Emotional Eating?

Could our Taste Buds Explain Emotional Eating?

A new study looking at the causes of emotional eating, has found that the taste buds responsible for detecting sweet, savory, and bitter tastes, contain receptors for stress-activated hormones. So could this discovery explain why we emotionally eat and eventually help us to develop ways to resist stress-induced cravings?

The Effect of Stress Hormone Receptors on Emotional Eating

Stress can affect the secretion of hormones named glucocorticoids. When these hormones are released, they activate GC receptors in the body. GC receptors have previously been found to influence taste preferences in rodents and humans. Researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, PA, wanted to identify whether our taste buds contain GC receptors, and if so, whether stress activates these receptors, which could explain why we emotionally eat.

Researchers conducting the study found that GC receptors on the tongue are predominantly found in cells containing taste receptors that identify sweet, savory, and bitter tastes. Using mice in the study, researchers found that stressed mice had a 77% higher level of GC receptors in their taste cell nuclei than mice that weren’t stressed.

Using the results of this study, researchers say their findings indicate that our perception of sweet tastes and our consumption of sugary foods may be influenced by GC secretion and receptor activation, the process triggered by stress. M. Rockwell Parker, PhD, who led the study, explains that “Taste provides one of our initial evaluations of potential foods. If this sense can be directly affected by stress-related hormonal changes, our food interaction will likewise be altered.”

Researchers conducting this study wish to develop further experiments to test their theories. Discovering what causes us to emotionally overeat could help us to develop ways to prevent it.

How to Stop Emotional Eating

In day-to-day life, there are many stress factors that may trigger us to emotionally eat. According to the Mayo Clinic they include:

  • Unemployment
  • Financial Pressure
  • Health Problems
  • Relationship Conflicts
  • Work Stress
  • Fatigue

Food is tied closely to our emotions. Stress causes many of us to reach for convenience food, which is often unhealthy and full of fat and calories. Food often helps us to temporarily forget our problems and makes us feel good while we’re eating it.

Although it’s sometimes difficult to resist these cravings, there are ways to stop emotional eating.

Stress Management

If stress causes you to emotionally eat, try stress management techniques and activities such as yoga, cycling, or walking. When we exercise, our body releases endorphins, which trigger positive feelings in the body.

Food Diary

Keep a diary of what you eat and how you were feeling throughout the day. Food diaries help to make us think more carefully about our food choices and also help identify connections between certain feelings and the foods you choose.

Choose Healthy Snacks 

Keep a variety of healthy snacks available in the house so you can reach for these when you’re craving a treat. Good options are nuts and fruit, yogurt, or hummus and vegetables. If you only have healthy choices available to you at home, you are less likely to emotionally eat the “bad stuff”, as it would involve making a special trip to purchase it.

Prevent Boredom

When we’re bored, many of us choose to overeat. Try to prevent yourself from getting bored in the first place by taking up a new hobby, finding an interesting book to read or television series to watch, or heading outside for a walk.