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Updated 30 October 2019

Break-up binge? Don't worry too much about weight gain

If you head straight for the sweet treats after a heartbreak or emotionally tough time, weight gain shouldn’t be one of your worries, experts say.

Drowning your sorrows in a tub of ice-cream after having your heart broken by the love of your life? You are not alone – emotional eating is a common coping mechanism during tough times.

But those treats that you consume during troubled times won’t necessarily mean weight gain, according to new research.

A quest for survival

A new study conducted by researchers from Penn State, published in the Journal of the Evolutionary Studies consortium, investigated the so-called German concept of “kummerspeck” – this literally translates as “grief bacon” and refers to weight gained during episodes of emotional eating.

According to Marissa Harrison, associate professor of psychology at Penn State Harrisburg, gaining weight and hoarding food during tough times may have made sense thousands of years ago as a quest for survival, but modern humans may have evolved past that – we no longer see emotional turmoil as a threat to our immediate survival and our bodies don’t stash away excess food as fat.

"Food was much scarcer in the ancestral environment, so if your partner abandoned you, it could have made gathering food much harder," Harrison said in a press release.

 "It may have made sense if our ancestors hoarded food after a break-up. But our research showed that while it's possible people may drown their sorrows in ice cream for a day or two, modern humans do not tend to gain weight after a breakup."

Two separate studies

"Modern women of course have jobs and access to resources now, but back then, it was likely that women were smaller and needed more protection and help with resources," Harrison said. "If their partner left or abandoned them, they would be in trouble. And the same could have gone for men. With food not as plentiful in the ancestral world, it may have made sense for people to gorge to pack on the pounds."

Two separate studies were done during the research – during the first study, 581 participants were recruited. They all experienced a break-up and had to report on recent weight loss or gain within a year of the breakup.

About 62% of the participants reported no weight change. Harrison and her researchers were surprised by this finding and wanted to do a follow-up study. During this study, 261 new participants were recruited and were given a more extensive survey than the first batch of participants.

Once again, most of the subjects (65%) reported no weight change. Harrison mentioned that the results of the research could have clinical implications, as it may help clinicians or counsellors with patients who are prone to emotional eating.

Image credit: iStock

 
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