The purpose of this research was twofold – to study the effects of induced stress on food cravings as well as the capacity of meditation to relieve induced stress. Participants in the study were subjected to the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), a well-studied social stress paradigm. Students were then asked about their perceived stress levels, mood, and an image-based food preference test to investigate the appeal of varying types of food in relation to stress level. Physiological responses to stress that were measured included the stress hormone cortisol, pulse, and blood pressure. Following the TSST, some students were given a relaxing audiobook to listen to and meditate while others were allowed to relax for the same amount of time without the audiobook. Following the relaxation period, cortisol levels and perceived mood were evaluated again immediately post-meditation.
We hypothesize that stress operationalized by salivary cortisol levels encourages increased consumption, particularly of more calorically dense foods, and that meditation could promote decreased cortisol production and subsequently alter food cravings. This could lead to a better understanding of the phenomenon of “stress eating,” and more effective recommendations for stress and weight management.