Despite the basic truth of the cardinal rule of nutrition—you are what you eat—some caveats have been discovered in recent years. For instance, it’s not just what we eat, but it’s when we eat, what we drink, and what other habits we’re engaging in on a daily basis. And a new study in the journal Molecular Psychiatry finds that our stress levels may actually undermine our healthy food choices.
Why stressors would affect how our bodies respond to food is an interesting question. One possibility is that the boost in inflammation that comes from stress might act to counteract the effect of healthier oils since it essentially mimics the physiological effects of unhealthy fats. (Unhealthy foods, like certain fats, processed food, and excess sugar seem to raise inflammation in the body.) The study also found that women who were stressed and ate the unhealthier meal didn’t have any further increase in the inflammatory markers, which the authors suggest that this may be due to some sort of ceiling effect for these markers. But that doesn’t mean we can eat whatever we want when we’re stressed. It seems to mean, on the contrary, that we should take our stress levels seriously, and do what we know helps us de-stress since both chronic stress and bad food choices seem to accrue over time.