When you think about oxytocin, the hormone associated with love and happiness, it’s usually in relation to depression (lacking oxytocin) or your sex life (orgasm=boost of oxytocin). But according to new research out of Canada, the way your body processes the hormone could be making an impact on your diet, too.
Previous research has shown that a rush of oxytocin tends to decrease appetite—especially when it comes to craving sweets. So researchers examined how an oxytocin receptor might play a role in whether or not someone is regularly overeating or binging. (You don’t need to have a diagnosed eating disorder to severely overeat once in a while, but How Bad Is Occasional Binge Eating?)
During the course of 10 years, researchers looked at the DNA of a large group of men and women age 27 and 50 to see how they produce and process oxytocin. People had a wide range of body weights and were also asked about their sensitivity to rewards and punishments when it came to their eating habits, as well as whether they crave sugary and fatty foods. They also shared any overeating habits. (Craving another slice of that cake? There are strategies on How to Work With Your Cravings, Not Against Them.)
Blood tests revealed a link between oxytocin and binge eating—specifically that some people process oxytocin differently than others. While it was commonly believed that more oxytocin suppresses appetite, this might only be the case for part of the population. Oxytocin could have the opposite effect in some people, causing them to eat more when they have a surge of the happiness hormone. Womp womp.
The takeaway? While there’s obviously nothing you can do to alter your DNA, taking notice of how your eating habits reflect your emotions can help you make more mindful food choices. Know your habits, then go ahead and soak up those good vibes.