Food & Drink

Why You Eat Junk Food When You're Stressed

Laura Murray/Thrillist

When you find yourself in the midst of stress, the idea of eating a salad seems worse than death, while a cheeseburger seems like the only savior. 

Well, science has confirmed that bad eating habits after a hard day of work or a fight with a significant other are triggered by the affect stress has on our brains. According to The Independent, Swiss researchers from the University of Zurich found that people in stressful situations were more likely to go for an unhealthier (albeit more delicious) meal. When studying the participant's brain patterns, they were able to see that stress shifts connections between brain regions in a way that alters a person's capacity for self-control.

So, basically, you have nothing to be blamed for -- you were barely in control when you ate those five Cheesy Gorditas while trying to solve that last-minute work crisis.  

For the study, 29 participants were put into baths of icy water for three minutes to induce stress, and then asked to choose between a "healthy" meal (fruits and vegetables), and an "unhealthy" meal (cake). Alternatively, 22 participants were given the same choice without the ice bath (so, while being stress-free). Though all participants said they are healthy eaters, those who were stressed were more likely to choose the unhealthy option.

Silvia U. Maier, leader of the study said, "We find that stress increases reward signaling and thus may boost a craving for getting the instantaneously rewarding option." She also said, "...It’s almost like stress is turning up the dial on signals about taste, and turning down the signal on health goals."

But, look, sometimes you deserve a reward. You work really hard. And cheeseburgers are really delicious.

Lucy Meilus is a staff writer for Thrillist and never eats healthy, but she's totally OKAY. Follow her on Twitter at @Lucymeilus and send news tips to news@thrillist.com.