February 8, 2023

The saying goes: the heart wants what the heart wants.

And when you’re sad, stressed, or heartbroken, it’s all too tempting to give in to temptation and down a big bar of chocolate.

But this could be bad for your heart health in the long run, researchers warn.

Researchers at Nancy University Hospital in France studied 1,109 people over 13 years to assess whether they were emotional eaters. They reported their findings in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology

Scientists studied 1,109 people who were rated on whether they were emotion eaters — trips to the cupboard or fridge in response to feelings like sadness or stress rather than hunger.

They were followed for 13 years and any cardiovascular damage was recorded.

This included carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity – indicating stiffness in the arteries – and diastolic dysfunction, indicating stiffness in the heart.

What should a balanced diet look like?

Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains, according to the NHS

Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, ideally whole grains, according to the NHS

  • Eat at least five servings of different fruits and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables count
  • Basic meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, preferably whole grains
  • Thirty grams of fiber per day. This is equivalent to eating all of the following: five servings of fruits and vegetables, two whole-wheat granola biscuits, two thick slices of whole-wheat bread, and a large baked potato with skin
  • Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soy drinks), choose options with less fat and less sugar
  • Eat some beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including two servings of fish per week, one of which is fatty)
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consume in small quantities
  • Drink six to eight cups/glasses of water a day
  • Adults should have less than 6 g of salt and 20 g of saturated fat for women or 30 g for men per day
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Source: NHS Eatwell Guide

Stiffer arteries are associated with higher risks of heart disease and stroke, while a stagnant heart means the muscle doesn’t relax enough after contraction and is associated with a higher chance of developing heart failure.

Analysis revealed that emotional eating is linked to stiffer arteries and a 38 percent increased risk of a stiffer heart.

The researchers found that stress levels explained 32 percent of the association between emotional eating and a stiff heart.

However, the amount of calories eaten did not appear to have an effect.

The researchers from Nancy University Hospital in France reported their findings in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Professor Nicolas Girerd, one of the authors of the study, said: ‘We might expect emotional eaters to consume high-calorie foods, which in turn would lead to cardiovascular problems, but that was not the case.

‘One explanation is that we measured the average calorie intake and that emotional eaters go into a binge when they are stressed and eat less at other times.

“This yo-yo pattern may have negative effects on the heart and blood vessels compared to a stable food intake.”

One of the ways to avoid emotional eating is to try to eat “mindfully,” the researchers advised.

“Emotional eaters consume food to satisfy their brains rather than their stomachs,” said Professor Girerd.

Mindful eating can help break this habit. It means taking the time to eat, alone or with others, being in the moment and aware of what you are doing, and not being distracted by your phone or the TV.”

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Lead author Dr Sandra Wagner said: ‘Stress may be one of the reasons for eating in response to feelings rather than hunger.

“We know that emotional eaters are less aware of hunger and satiety, but mindful eating draws attention to these physical sensations.

“Exercise — a walk or more vigorous exercise — is another way to avoid emotional eating because it relieves stress and provides a replacement activity.

“Just 10 minutes a day of meditation or breathing exercises can also help reduce and reduce stress.

“Basically, use the three Ms to unlearn emotional eating: exercise, meditate, and mindful eating.”

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