Turns out there may be another reason why so many people turn to sweet treats when stressed. An article from Medical News Today describes some research into the effects of stress on food preferences. Here’s how it works.
Stress increases production of glucocorticoid hormones, which activate receptors within cells. Those glucocorticoid receptors show up on the tongue, inside taste buds for sweet, savory, and bitter tastes. According to the article, activating the receptors is known to influence taste preferences. The study compared taste cells in both stressed and non-stressed mice—the stressed mice had 77% more of these receptors than the unstressed mice.
Well no wonder those treats taste like ambrosia when we’re stressed!
We’ve all had experience with stressful days when we realize that we are going to indulge that desire for chocolate (or whatever satisfies your need for the food equivalent of a hug), in spite of good intentions. Now we know what’s going on in our cells when we get that urge!
For me, dealing with times when cravings are strong includes recognizing that those times come and go–I may have a week when they are a constant annoyance, but then I’ll have weeks when they are taking a vacation, or appear occasionally as a pale reminder of an outgrown habit. For the most part, I can just ride them out.
When I do succumb, these days, I do it while paying close attention to the whole experience. No indulging while driving or talking on the phone! And no guilt-tripping, either–nothing that will get in the way of my enjoyment. I don’t want to miss a thing! I am aware of what I expect from this (now) rare treat, aware of every bite. I also want to be aware of how I feel throughout the process, so I can be aware when I have had enough. That way, when I’m finished, I can answer “Yes!” to the question, “Was it worth it?”
Of course, sometimes it doesn’t quite work out this way. Sometimes indulging mindfully like this shows us that the craving is really just an empty promise–then it’s much easier to say no, next time. And that’s quite a gift, in the end, isn’t it?