9 Surprising Relationships Between Food and Mood

9 Surprising Relationships Between Food and Mood

Is a Mediterranean diet protective against depression?

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

If you aren't going to Spain or Greece on 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!

Will eating fast foods lead to an increased risk for depression?

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

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

Will being in a positive mood lead to eating more?

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

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. 

Can you eat yourself into a bad mood in just two days?

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

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. 

Can snacks impact your well-being?

100 students at Cardiff University were asked to complete an online questionnaire about how they were feeling emotionally and physically. They were then randomly assigned to one of two snacking conditions – chocolate/crisps or fruit – which they ate 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 was associated with lower anxiety, depression, and emotional distress than consumption of crisps/chocolate. Similarly, scores for somatic symptoms, cognitive difficulties, and fatigue were greater in the crisps/chocolate condition.

Take note of your snacking behaviors! 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!). 

Can your emotions change how you taste?

A study came out recently that 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 the winning games correlated with enhanced sweet and diminished sour intensities while negative emotions lead to heightened sour and decreased sweet tastes.

Take time to taste your food and have awareness that the emotions you are feeling are not only influencing what you are eating, but 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. 

Can being bored drive you to eat?

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

Fill your time with healthy communities and physical activity to keep you pleasantly busy! 

Does 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:

(1) "...high openness to experience were associated with higher fruit, vegetable and salad and lower meat and soft drink consumption";

(2) "High agreeableness was associated with low meat consumption."

(3) Conscientiousness mainly promoted fruit consumption, prevented meat consumption and intake of sweet and savory foods and of sugar-sweetened soft drinks.

(4) Neuroticism promoted consumption of sweet and savory foods 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. 

Does being a 'morning person' make you less apt to eat emotionally?

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 2325 men and 2699 women. 

Make sure you are getting sufficient sleep so you do not crave foods. If possible, try to mirror your rhythm with 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! 

©2016 by Deanna Minich. All Rights Reserved.
Published by HarperOne, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.

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About the Author

Dr. Deanna MinichDr. Deanna Minich is a lifestyle medicine expert who has mastered the art of integrating ancient healing traditions with modern science. Her unique "whole self" approach to nutrition looks at physiology, psychology, eating, and living within what she calls the "7 Systems of Health." A five-time book author, and founder of Food & Spirit, she continues to do detox programs with individuals to help them achieve better health. Learn more about how to conquer emotional eating and balance your mood at deannaminich.com.