Dieting Changes How Bodies React To Stress?

At least that’s what seems to happen in mice.  As summarized in US News and World Report,

Shaving calories triggers molecular changes in the brain that make mice more susceptible to stress and binge eating long after the diet ends, researchers report in the Dec. 1 Journal of Neuroscience. The finding could explain part of the yo-yo dieting phenomenon, in which people repeatedly diet and lose weight but then subsequently regain even more than they lost.

Researchers found that the dieting mice were more stressed than the non-dieting mice.  They also found that even after ending the “diet” and regaining the weight, the former-dieting mice were more susceptible to stress than the non-dieters.

The team traced lower activity of the gene that makes CRF to a chemical modification called DNA methylation.  DNA methylation and other modifications to genes help to regulate gene activity. Dieting mice had lower levels of methylated DNA near the gene for CRF than did animals that continued on the high-fat diet or ones that ate as much regular chow as they wanted. This change was essentially locked in for the dieting mice. It did not increase even two months after the diet ended—a long time in the life of a mouse, and equivalent to years, maybe even decades, for a person.

Researchers mildly stressed the mice for a week with things like damp bedding, cage swaps or putting a marble in the cage—mice are not big fans of change—so that the animals didn’t know what was coming next. Under this mild, but chronic, stress the former dieters snarfed down far more of the high-fat food than the nondieters. And the ex-dieters also had higher levels of hormones that prompt eating.

I DID find it rather eye-rolling that the article suggests that “dieters may need to cut stress as well as calories”, given that being fat is itself stressful.  And, of course, it remains to be seen how much of this applies to humans.  But this may help explain the mechanisms by which dieters so often regain the lost weight.

Abstract is here.

8 thoughts on “Dieting Changes How Bodies React To Stress?

  1. This makes sense to my experience. In my dieting years, I would have to insulate myself from the world as much as possible, because the rought and tumble of normal life was way too much to handle and still be able to diet. And, like these mice, I’ve also noticed my body is very sensitive to diet restriction. Feeling even just a little deprived (I don’t diet, but sometimes this just happens in life) can easily make me overeat. It doesn’t feel like a conscious compensation at this point… it feels very much like my body just isn’t going to take that kind of behavior any more and it will drive me to eat as much food as possible at the smallest deprivation. I can’t blame my poor body. I put it through hell.

  2. Also curious that the authors used the implicitly critical word “snarfed”. Because even mice who are stressed and fat because you did things to make them stressed and fat are out of control fat fat fatty mice!!!!!

  3. I agree with your caution about this being mice but it is so spot on its hard to be. You probably don’t remember, but a while back on April D’s blog you coined a brill term I think it was ‘dieting PTSD’ , I think this is what this is about.

    When you diet and your body fights that off, it is hugely taxing to it, and it does operate through and traumatize the nervous system.

      • They are one and the same, remember you said PTSD, that was very astute, because your instincts recognised that this is not just a temporary mood of association with being on a diet. It is an actual aftermath that remains independent of the action of dieting itself no longer being in play.

        PTSD is an actual physical change that’s why it is “post traumatic stress syndrome”.
        It’s not the actual experience that is the problem, it’s that it has altered the nervous system and this keeps triggering memories, feelings, flashbacks even hallucinations, after the fact.

        I used to think of it as these traumatic experiences and actions changing the “posture” of your nervous system and therefore the way it functions.

        This is what I mean when I say that dieting is hugely taxing on our nervous systems in a way we do not realise or take account of. It’s not so much just the calorie restriction, it is the action of the body defending itself against that deficit, because those defences also function via the nervous system.

        That’s what is so fascinating about the difference between dieters and those with anorexia, dieting triggers a more extreme more complete reaction in them.

        Whereas dieters might get post trauma- in terms of mental imagery and emotional flashback, PWA’s post trauma is (being unable to stop) repetition of the real actions.

        I just thought of that last bit!

  4. I wouldn’t say that being fat is stressful. I would say being told over and over every day how you are the root cause of everything thats wrong in the world by media outlets, then being harassed, insulted, and assaulted by random strangers is stressful.

    Being fat does not cause that… it’s just the “reason” the haters use to excuse their hate. Gotta hate someone after all, just isn’t possible to not hate people thats crazy talk! *mutter*

    • Basically I agree, but, there are people who are completely upset with their own bodies. How much of that is due to being brainwashed and how much is that their bodies really don’t work for them varies, but I do think the common ground is that being fat in this society is stressful.

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