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Chch women resorting to comfort food

Tuesday 26 Mar 2013 11:34 a.m.

University of Canterbury researcher Dr Roeline Kuijer (supplied)

University of Canterbury researcher Dr Roeline Kuijer (supplied)

Canterbury women may be over-indulging on “comfort food” in an effort to cope with quake-related stress.

Research by University of Canterbury psychology expert Dr Roeline Kuijer suggests women in Christchurch may be caught in a “vicious circle”, leaving them unhealthy and struggling to cope.

Dr Kuijer says the quakes changed why many local woman bought food, leading to unhealthy diets, low energy and bad moods.

She studied 119 people over a period of five years, starting in 2007, and saw a shift from healthy eating to "comfort’ food after the February 2012 quake.

“For women who scored high on post-traumatic stress after the earthquakes, choosing food for mood reasons and familiarity reasons became more important,” she says.

“They were all Canterbury residents mostly middle-aged and 75 percent of them were women.

“We asked them what they ate each day, whether they ate junk food and how much they ate.

“Until after the earthquakes eating habits were fairly stable. Following the February 2011 earthquake, participants started reporting unhealthier eating patterns.”

The study only looked at the short-term effects, but Dr Kuijer says the combination of continuing stress and a bad diet could still be hurting the ability of local women to cope.

“The short-term negative effects associated with an unhealthy diet, such as low energy and low mood, may make coping in the aftermath of a disaster even more difficult,” she says.

“I think what can happen is you get into a vicious circle where post-traumatic stress makes it more difficult to maintain a healthy diet which then makes it more difficult to cope.

“But on the other hand it is okay to occasionally eat the odd chocolate bar, something that makes you feel good.”

The researcher studied both men and women, but says that she does not have a big enough sample of men to comment on their behaviour.

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