I recently came across this study done in 2002.

They were trying to replicate dieting and stress in rats to see if they would acquire eating disorders. They began by giving the rats 66% of the amount of food (Rat Chow!) that they usually ate. That’s like going from a 2000 calorie per day diet (normal) to a 1300 calorie per day diet (restrictive). They had the rats on this diet for 4 days. After 4 days, they lost 7-9% of their body weight. After the days of restriction, they were allowed to eat freely for 6 days. At the end of the 6 days, most of them they’d gained back almost all their weight and in some cases 5% more. This finding is not significant.  After day 6, the rats were exposed to stress (shocks). They were then given access to their rat chow and ate a normal amount, the same as they had eaten after the four days of restriction.  They then, created 4 new groups, one group that was unrestricted and unshocked (control group), one group that was on a restricted chow diet, one group that was shocked (stressed) and one group that was restricted and shocked. They then introduced Oreos into the picture.  After the shocking and restricting was completed, the rats were given as much access to Rat Chow and Oreos as they wanted.

The results:

1.)The control group (no restriction no stress) maintained their weight and their food intake with both the Rat Chow and the Oreos.

2.)The restricted group gained back what they’d lost during the restriction.

3.)The stressed group maintained their food intake/weight.

4.)The restricted stress group, though they were neutral on the Rat Chow, ate as much as they had previously had, however, they binged on Oreos. Their intake was almost 33% more (entirely on Oreos) than it had been.

Interesting! What does it all mean?

The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that when  caloric restriction and stress come together, it causes an increase in food intake.  This hypothesis was guided by the idea that dieting is the strongest predictor of stress induced binge eating disorder in the human population.

Even rats don’t do well on diets!

One of the ways to work through binge eating disorder is to really get a handle on stress. Some things that I’ve found incredibly helpful in alleviating stress are writing, reading, running, acupuncture, meditation,  yoga and talking to friends.  Others find knitting, sewing, walking, drinking tea, watching TV, seeing movies, getting massages, and deep breathing can be stress relieving.  What are some things that you do to relieve your stress?


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Most recent quote from community member: "Unbelievable progress. I had a slice of cake, wasn't that fussed about it and moved on. Cake is just cake! I never thought I'd get to this place. I keep thinking back to an earlier meditation when all the negative energy left down through my feet. That was really powerful. I'm planning to play it again. I've also drawn up a weekly meal plan of healthy balanced meals. This just helps to give me a bit of guidance and planning and eliminates any need for impulsive decisions when I often feel stressed after work. Amazing, thank you so much. I always hoped for hope, but n ow I feel like I'm living hope! I'm so grateful Leora. Thank you."
  • sunshine

    Very interesting!

  • Epona

    Hi, I’ve been reading your blog for some time. I have been “counting calories” recently (ie. dieting) and realized today that it was triggering my compulsive behavior around food. So I found my way back here for some guidance and found this study, which indicates that dieting provokes stress and binge eating! That certainly confirms what I’ve been experiencing. Thank you for your blog, I appreciate it very much.

  • Leora Fulvio

    Oh that’s great! I’m so happy that this has been helpful for you!

  • Mary Boggiano (formerly Hagan)

    Nice write-up of our rat study. In a 2nd subsequent study, the dieting + stress rats also binged on regular rat chow if first primed with just a bite of cookie, much the way dieters overeat if they feel they have “broken” their diet. This tells us that relapse back to overeating may be more biologically rooted than cognitively rooted. If rats do it it’s probably not about will power.