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Surprising Science

Loneliness May Cause Healthy Women to Eat More

Researchers suggest that loneliness may trigger a hormone in healthy women that causes them to eat more — even when they’re full.

Loneliness has been described as a disease. Some scientists say that it’s becoming an epidemic among younger adults and others have linked social isolation with heart risks. Why the latter, in particular, may be the case, scientists aren’t certain. Some researchers have pointed to increased stress and depression as the cause, but BPShas written on an interesting study that links loneliness to increased eating habits in healthy women.

Lisa Jaremka headed up a new study that links loneliness with increased food intake. She and her colleagues gathered 42 women, with an average age of 53, asking them to fast for 12 hours before visiting the lab. Upon their arrival, the women were asked to eat a 930-calorie meal, consisting of eggs, turkey, sausage, biscuits, and gravy — quite a hearty meal. Before and after the meal, the women were asked to rate their hunger levels. Researchers also took their blood before eating, as well as two and seven hours after consuming the meal. The main purpose was to measure their ghrelin levels — an appetite-regulation hormone.

Researchers found that those who felt lonelier exhibited higher levels of ghrelin and reported feeling hungry, “but only among participants with a lower BMI.” Curious, as researchers wrote:

“Loneliness and postprandial ghrelin and hunger were unrelated among participants with a higher BMI.”

This finding would indicate that “hunger may link loneliness to weight gain and its corresponding negative health effects among non-obese people.” As to why these cravings for food plague us during our loneliest hours, the researchers suggest in their paper that this need to eat stems from our earlier days on Earth: 

“Eating was a highly social activity throughout human evolution, and today meals are often eaten with other people.”

But a consequence of this instinct in modern times is that “people may feel hungrier when they feel socially disconnected because they have either implicitly or explicitly learned that eating helps them feel socially connected and/or provides them with an opportunity for social connection.”

It’s an interesting study to say the least, but more research and a larger, more diverse pool of participants (e.g., including men) would have helped add more support to the results. Needless to say, more research is necessary.

Read more about the study at BPS.

Photo Credit: Martin Cooper / Flickr


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