Emotional Hunger: What is the Role of the Nutritionist?

Tempo de Leitura: 3 minutos

Hunger is nothing more than the physiological sensation that the body feels when it goes on for a long time without ingesting any kind of food. Thus, there is a whole hormonal context involved in such a process, including the low insulin/glucagon ratio. However, emotional hunger is a little different, as it will never be sated with a fruit or a salad. Usually, it is associated with foods with high caloric density, and has compensatory character, and seeks to fill a void that is not in the stomach. Understand how the nutritionist can help your patient overcome emotional hunger and how science explains such behavior.

Stress and Emotional Hunger

Emotional hunger is directly associated with stress. The negative emotional experience characterized as stress is accompanied by several biochemical, physiological and behavioral changes, especially when it is a chronic process. It can be caused by several factors, such as social and professional life, impaired sleep, and personal insecurity.

When talking about nutritional aspects, some deficiencies are linked to a greater susceptibility to stress, such as vitamin D, niacin, folate, vitamins B6 and B12 and omega-3. Physiologically, the expression of the glucocorticoid receptor gene is associated with basal cortisol secretion, increasing vulnerability to stress. It is known, in view of the above, that when talking about the chronicity of stress, there are higher risks of weight gain and accumulation of visceral adipose tissue, bringing some consequences to metabolic health.

A review article looked for evidence about the role of mental stress and how it affects sleep, appetite, and the willingness to perform physical activities. Below are some points discussed in this study.

Stress, Obesity and Nutritional Interventions

As described earlier, some nutritional deficiencies are associated with stress. Thus, they are also directly associated with obesity. Some nutritional interventions, such as the supplementation of some micronutrients, have been studied as an aid in the control of emotional hunger. However, they still need further proof. In addition, recent findings have revealed that higher tryptophan consumption, as well as carbohydrate, promote the activation of the brain serotonergic system, responsible for controlling stress and mood.

Sleep and Emotional Hunger

Sleep quality is also a determining factor for the development of stress and emotional hunger. Its deprivation brings a physiological response of increased energy intake. This mechanism can be explained through appetite-regulating hormones, such as leptin, ghrelin and GLP-1, followed by lower food satiety effect and higher consumption of high energy density foods, since such behavior is associated with compensation. The literature has also brought evidence about good sleep quality and weight loss, which has a lot of robustness.

Clinical practice

The literature provides new information about supplementations that can help in the prevention of stress, which is the major cause of emotional hunger, for example, vitamin D, niacin, folate, vitamins B6 and B12 and omega-3 are widely studied. However, such supplementations are only necessary if these micronutrients are outside the adequacy ranges.

In addition, the nutritionist can guide your patient who is emotionally hungry with some tips of self-knowledge in order to assist him in changing such behavior. In this way, practices such as mindful eating can be crucial in times of stress. In addition, identifying which triggers bring to light emotional hunger and avoid buying the foods associated with such episodes may be some solutions that aid this process, which is not easy.

Bibliographic references

Reading Suggestion:
Mindful Eating in Practice: How to Do?

Watch nutritionist Roberta Carbonari’s video on the Science Play platform –
Sleep Restriction and Impact on Eating Behavior

hunger article
: Geiker NRW, Astrup A, Hjorth MF, Sjödin A, Pijls L, Markus CR. Does stress influence sleep patterns, food intake, weight gain, abdominal obesity and weight loss interventions and vice versa?.
Rev Obes
. 2018;19(1):81-97. doi:10.1111/obr.12603

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