What do you do to unwind after a long, stressful day? Maybe you go for a run or hit the gym after work. Perhaps you watch a couple episodes of your favorite show to help yourself relax. Or maybe you open up a bag of potato chips or a sleeve of Oreos to comfort yourself when you feel overwhelmed.
If you tend to rely on food to boost your mood when you’re feeling stressed, it might be caused by your genetics. According to new research from the DNA Company, 20% of people have a gene deletion that makes them more reliant on comfort food when they’re stressed.
Of course, it’s not abnormal to occasionally have a couple scoops of ice cream at the end of a difficult week. The pattern of regularly eating junk food when you’re stressed is what can signify a genetic issue. Constant snacking can lead to weight gain and cardiovascular health concerns, which is why it’s important to find ways to overcome your poor eating habits.
The Genetic Link Between Mood And Snacking
Your tendency to crave comfort food when you’re stressed is likely a result of having low serotonin levels. Because serotonin is a critical hormone for stabilizing your mood, not having enough of it has serious consequences–everything from experiencing mood dysregulation to using food as a coping mechanism.
The main gene responsible for maintaining serotonin levels is called the 5HTTLPR gene. Having the optimal version of this gene allows serotonin to flow through your body easily. Those who have a deletion in their 5HTTLPR gene, on the other hand, are likely to have problems with serotonin reuptake. As you might expect, this leads to serotonin levels that are lower than average.
When you don’t have enough serotonin, you will probably have a difficult time staying calm and balanced. Your friends, family, and coworkers might comment on your irritability and moodiness. And since you struggle to maintain balance, you may develop a habit of relying on food to soothe yourself during stressful times.
The other gene that might be influencing your snacking habit is known as the MC4R gene. This gene regulates your appetite and hunger cues. Basically, it lets your body know when it’s time to eat and when to stop eating.
Unfortunately, certain genotypes of the MC4R gene can lead to having an irregular appetite and not receiving normal hunger cues. Having the C/T or C/C genotype makes you more prone to snacking and grazing, especially when you’re feeling emotional. This is because your body struggles to signal you to eat at the proper times.
Having a deletion in your 5HTTLPR gene as well as a suboptimal genotype of the MC4R gene is a combination that will likely lead to intense snacking. You may find yourself polishing off an entire bar of chocolate after a stressful work meeting or looking forward to swinging by your favourite fast food place after a tough week.
What if your snacking habit leads you to carrot sticks or sunflower seeds? In that case, you’re probably not going to be negatively impacted by it. Most people who lean on food to help them cope with stress gravitate towards unhealthy comfort food. They look for something that’s salty, sweet, crunchy, crispy, or chewy to satisfy their specific food craving.
Case Study: Rita
Rita* is a successful lawyer who was struggling with weight. No matter what she did, she simply couldn’t lose weight. She maintained a healthy diet with plenty of exercise. According to her genetics, her hormones seemed to be in balance. What could be the reason for her weight gain?
In order to uncover the problem, Rita was asked to keep track of what she was eating and when. It turned out that the cause of her issues stemmed more from a mental health problem rather than a physical problem. She was actually serotonin dysregulated, which was causing her to deal with stress in unhealthy ways.
While looking at her notes, it was discovered that she tended to eat junk food while at work. The high amount of stress would send her running to the vending machine, where she would consume junk food to make her happy again. She didn’t even realize this was happening because the behavior was so ingrained in her as a coping mechanism.
Once we found the source of the problem, we were able to solve it easily by providing her with supplements and natural ingredients to regulate her serotonin levels and bring her mood into balance. She was finally able to lose weight after bringing her snacking habit under control.
How To Curb Your Dangerous Snacking Habits
Think about your pantry for a minute. Is it full of cookies and chips or almonds and dried fruit? It’s important to start by creating a healthy snacking atmosphere so you can reach for something nutritious when you have a craving.
If it feels impossible to avoid the candy aisle, ask your partner or friend to come to the grocery store with you and help you make the right choices. Don’t forget to bring healthy snacks to work as well so you’re not tempted to grab a doughnut from the staff room.
Aside from surrounding yourself with healthy snacks, there are many other things you can do to sever the link between your mood and your food. Try to put the following tips into practice:
- Find something besides food to cheer you up when you feel down such as going for a walk, meditating, or hanging out with a friend
- Allow yourself a treat once a month when you’ve completed an especially difficult task
- Drink plenty of herbal teas such as lavender, chamomile, and lemon balm
- Increase your fiber intake by eating more flaxseed, beans, lentils, pineapples, plums, and cherries
- Add foods to your diet that promote serotonin such as cocoa, avocados, pumpkin seeds, cherries, and oats
- Avoid inflammatory foods such as processed foods, caffeine, sweetened foods, and fried foods
- Take supplements such as 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) and magnesium
- Eat a variety of foods with different textures and flavors to prevent yourself from having the desire to snack
Are you wondering whether you’re genetically predisposed to snacking when you’re stressed?
The best way to find out is by decoding your genes through our DNA testing. You’ll discover whether you suffer from serotonin dysregulation as well as 37 other custom reports surrounding sleep, diet, nutrition, hormones, fitness, cardiovascular health, immunity, and behavior.
Each custom report includes your genetic tendencies as well as practical steps you can take to optimize your health and wellness. You are a unique individual, and you deserve health strategies that reflect your unique genome.
Are you curious to know more about the DNA testing if you have not ordered yours yet? I am happy to speak with you about this so just email me and we will set up a time to discuss it in more detail.