Monday, May 31, 2004

Cicadas' song could be why you
think you want more to eat

By Peggy O'Farrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Could the cicadas' nearly ceaseless songs be making some Cincinnatians overeat?

Women in a Penn State University study ate more chocolate, cheese, popcorn and chips after being exposed to stressful noise. The women ate more than men exposed to the same noise.

Both sexes eat more during stress, researchers say, but the study is the first to show that women ate more after the stress ended.

Dr. Randy Seeley, associate director of the University of Cincinnati's Obesity Research Center, says stress does contribute to overeating for some people. Seeley says the noise of the cicadas could prompt some stress-prone people to eat too much.

"People who are restrained eaters - people who push themselves away from the table before they're full - they tend to eat more when they're stressed," Seeley says. In other words, people who are trying to exert control over their food tend to lose some of that control when they're stressed.

Women, more than men, are more likely to be restrained eaters, Seeley says.

On the other hand, people who stop eating when they feel full - rather than telling themselves they've eaten enough - tend to eat less when they're stressed, he says.

Laura Klein, the Penn State researcher who led the study, says the results show that though people "rise to the occasion" during a stressful event, they might experience a mini-meltdown after it's over.

"For example, women exposed to a week of frustrating job stress could be especially vulnerable to overeating on the weekends," she says.

For the study, subjects were divided into three groups and asked to solve math and geometry problems.

One group was exposed to loud noise, but shown how to turn it off. A second was exposed to the noise, but not told they could turn it off. The third group wasn't exposed to the loud noise.

Women in the group who weren't allowed to turn off the noise ate more of the snacks offered after the problem-solving session, especially high-fat snacks - chips, cheese and chocolate - compared to women who weren't in the high-stress group.

Women in the high-stress group also were less persistent in trying to solve the math and geometry problems.


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