Wholeness Healing Today

Thinking Increases your Appetite

We have all experienced a long day of mental stress and felt the hunger cravings set in during the day. I have wondered how I could be so hungry when doing nothing physical. Now researchers are looking at those people who deal with mental stress and finding that mental stress increases appetite.

A research team found that intellectual work does substantially increase appetite and calorie intake. The research centered around the food intake of 14 students after each of three tasks were completed: relaxing in a sitting position, reading and summarizing a text, and completing a series of memory, attention, and vigilance tests on the computer. They found that the students did indeed take in more food after the task of reading and summarizing a test and after completing the computer test than after their task of relaxing. Two hundred and three more calories were consumed after the task of reading and summarizing and 253 more were consumed after the computer tests than after the task of relaxing.

Blood test results showed that the intellectual work caused larger fluctuations in the glucose and insulin levels. These systems are critical in the regulatory and energy systems of the body. They found that mental work “destabilizes” the body’s level of insulin and glucose. In an effort to stabilize the body, the appetite is stimulated. (Chaput, 2008).

Researchers from the University of California found that when rats were chronically stressed, the release of cortisol into their system led them to engage in pleasure-seeking behaviors. This included eating high-energy foods. Now the good news is that these foods (pizza, choc chip cookies) did stop the effects of chronic stress. So in the short-term it might be okay to engage in some “junk food” eating to de-stress. The bad news was that it increased abdominal obesity which is associated with increased risk of heart attacks, diabetes, and strokes. Researchers also found that rats with chronically elevated stress developed pleasure-seeking, compulsive behaviors. In humans this would include alcoholism, gambling, etc. So dealing with your stress might be a better option than engaging in the pleasure-seeking behavior of eating junk food.

If you have a high-stressed day, make some adjustments. Consider having foods available that will be nourishing to your body. And if you do a lot of mentally challenging work, then consider giving yourself nourishment for your brain. Good brain foods include organic eggs, leafy vegetables like spinach, seeds and nuts (especially walnuts), organic grass-fed beef and chicken, green tea and omega-3 fats. Foods to avoid include refined foods, white sugar, white flour, and anything processed, alcohol, and trans fats. (Mercola, 2008)

In the long-term it would be better to manage and decrease the chronic stress. Increase your sleep and exercise which helps to decrease the effects of stress to your body. Look at the relationships which are the source of your stress and consider making some changes in that area to decrease the amount of chronic stress you have. Continue to challenge yourself mentally because thinking is good for the brain. Just be aware that an increase in appetite needs a healthy choice for the brain and the body.

Chaput, J.-P. (2008). Psychosomatic Medicine , September.
Mercola, D. (2008, October 2). Stress Often Leads to Overeating and Extra Weight. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from Mercola.com.



  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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