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9 Surprising Ways Food And Mood Are Related

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Yes, your food can shift your mood. While fast food increases your risk for depression, a Mediterranean diet of fruit, veggies, legumes, fish, and olive oil decreases it. Not just bad mood but also good mood, neuroticism, and boredom cause overeating. Snack on fruits, not on chocolates. Sleep early, wake up early, shun pessimism, and chew slowly to eat less while enjoying your food.

Research finds that there are surprising relationships between what we eat and how we feel. Here are 9 of them:

1. Can A Mediterranean Diet Prevent Depression?

We already know that a Mediterranean diet full of vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, fish, and olive oil reduces inflammation and may be beneficial for heart health. A large study with 10,094 healthy Spaniards showed that eating a Mediterranean diet was responsible for the prevention of depressive disorders.1

If you aren’t going to Spain or Greece over the holidays, pretend you are there by copying their diet. Add more veggies to your holiday potlucks or shake on the herbs and spices to reduce inflammation caused by your meal.

2. Can Fast Food Increase Risk Of Depression?

Eating fast food like hamburgers, sausages, and pizza, as well as commercial baked goods like muffins, doughnuts, and croissants, has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of depression.2

Do your best to balance out your food choices with some healthy, fresh options whenever available.

3. Can Positive Mood Make You Overeat?

It’s not just bad mood that can lead to eating more. Researchers at the King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry, recently showed that negative mood and positive mood BOTH lead to more food intake.3

This research doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be in a good mood! Try to find balance in your moods, keeping steady and stable without the extreme peaks and valleys that could cause you to overeat.

4. Can Your Food Cause Bad Mood?

A study with 44 college students at the Pennsylvania State University revealed that the more calories, saturated fat, and sodium they ate, the more negative mood they reported just two days later. The researchers suggest that food causes mood shifts.4

If you find yourself in a bad mood, look at what you are eating. You can make some immediate changes that will translate into quick lifts in your mood.

5. Can Snacks Impact Your Well-Being?

At Cardiff University, 100 students were asked to complete an online questionnaire about how they were feeling emotionally and physically. They were then randomly assigned one of two snacking options — chocolate/crisps or fruit — that they had to eat daily in the mid-afternoon for 10 days. At the end of the 10 days, they completed the questionnaire again. The results showed that consumption of fruit, as opposed to consumption of chocolate/crisp, was associated with lower anxiety, depression, and emotional distress. Similarly, scores for somatic symptoms, cognitive difficulties, and fatigue were greater in the chocolate/crisps condition.5

Take note of your snacking behaviors during the holidays! If you find yourself eating too many cookies or indulging in lots of chocolate, shake up your snacking routine by getting some fresh fruit. Your mood will thank you for it (and those around you will, too!).

6. Can Your Emotions Affect Your Taste?

A study assessed taste and emotions of 550 people who attended hockey games. There were a total of 8 games, 4 wins, 3 losses, and 1 tie. The researchers found that positive emotions during winning the games correlated with enhanced sweet and diminished sour intensities, while negative emotions led to heightened sour and decreased sweet tastes.6

Take time to taste your food and be aware that the emotions you are feeling are not only influencing what you are eating but also how things taste. If you take your time to eat mindfully, you’ll be more in the moment, and, as the studies suggest, you’ll likely eat less and feel more satisfied.

7. Can Boredom Drive You To Eat?

Researchers at the North Dakota State University would say “yes!” They discovered that in a sample of 552 college students, those prone to being bored and lacking emotional coping skills had inappropriate eating behavior — like eating when bored or in response to negative emotions.

Being bored is probably the least of your worries during the holidays. However, you may have more down time, which means that you could be looking for things to do. Fill your time with healthy communities and physical activity to keep you pleasantly busy!

8. Can Your Personality Drive Your Eating Habits?

An interesting publication in the journal Appetite earlier this year brought to light many findings about one’s personality and eating:

  • “… high openness to experience [was] associated with higher fruit, vegetable and salad and lower meat and soft drink consumption.”
  • “High agreeableness was associated with low meat consumption.”
  • Conscientiousness mainly promoted fruit consumption, prevented meat consumption and intake of sweet and savory food and of sugar-sweetened soft drinks.
  • Neuroticism promoted consumption of sweet and savory food by promoting emotional and external eating.

Well, perhaps we can’t change who we are, but we can become more aware of our actions! If you find that you are always on edge and feeling neurotic, try to put yourself in the space of agreeableness and openness, which will contribute positively to your eating habits.

9. Can Being A “Morning Person” Reduce Emotional Eating?

If you like mornings more than evenings and you find yourself more alert in the early hours, researchers at the University of Helsinki, Finland, would tell you that you probably have lower depressive symptoms and emotional eating, based on their study with 2,325 men and 2,699 women.7

Make sure you are getting sufficient sleep during the holidays so you do not crave food. If possible, try to make your rhythm mirror that of nature, waking up early with the sun and going to bed early when it is dark.

You’ll be more in balance on the inside through the cues on the outside!

References   [ + ]

1.Sánchez-Villegas, Almudena, Miguel Delgado-Rodríguez, Alvaro Alonso, Javier Schlatter, Francisca Lahortiga, Lluis Serra Majem, and Miguel Angel Martínez-González. “Association of the Mediterranean dietary pattern with the incidence of depression: the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra/University of Navarra follow-up (SUN) cohort.” Archives of General Psychiatry 66, no. 10 (2009): 1090-1098.
2.Sánchez-Villegas, Almudena, Estefania Toledo, Jokin de Irala, Miguel Ruiz-Canela, Jorge Pla-Vidal, and Miguel A. Martínez-González. “Fast-food and commercial baked goods consumption and the risk of depression.” Public health nutrition15, no. 03 (2012): 424-432.
3.Brewer, Rebecca, Richard Cook, Valentina Cardi, Janet Treasure, and Geoffrey Bird. “Emotion recognition deficits in eating disorders are explained by co-occurring alexithymia.” Royal Society open science 2, no. 1 (2015): 140382.
4.Hendy, Helen M. “Which comes first in food–mood relationships, foods or moods?.” Appetite 58, no. 2 (2012): 771-775.
5.Smith, Andrew Paul, and Rosannagh Rogers. “Positive effects of a healthy snack (fruit) versus an unhealthy snack (chocolate/crisps) on subjective reports of mental and physical health: A preliminary intervention study.” Frontiers in nutrition 1 (2014).
6.Noel, Corinna, and Robin Dando. “The effect of emotional state on taste perception.” Appetite 95 (2015): 89-95.
7.Konttinen, Hanna, Erkki Kronholm, Timo Partonen, Noora Kanerva, Satu Männistö, and Ari Haukkala. “Morningness–eveningness, depressive symptoms, and emotional eating: A population-based study.” Chronobiology international 31, no. 4 (2014): 554-563.
Dr. Deanna Minich
Star Expert

Dr. Deanna Minich is an internationally-known nutritionist and author with more than twenty years of experience in nutrition, wellness, and healing. Her unique approach to nutrition is derived from a combination of her study in biological and medical science together with ancient medical and spiritual practices. She has had the privilege of being trained in functional medicine by the “father of functional medicine” – Dr. Jeffrey Bland – for over a decade.

Dr. Deanna Minich
Star Expert

Dr. Deanna Minich is an internationally-known nutritionist and author with more than twenty years of experience in nutrition, wellness, and healing. Her unique approach to nutrition is derived from a combination of her study in biological and medical science together with ancient medical and spiritual practices. She has had the privilege of being trained in functional medicine by the “father of functional medicine” – Dr. Jeffrey Bland – for over a decade.

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