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Eating and Emotions: The Food-Mood Connection

August 23, 2015
Find Rob Masterson, RD, CNSC on Twitter @RobMastersonRD

While most of us realize the food we eat has a direct correlation to our physical health, many don’t consider the connection between food and our emotional state. Often we hear the phrase, “you are what you eat” but it may be just as accurate to say, “your food is your mood” as research over the years has shown what we eat can affect our mood, both positively and negatively.

This food-mood connection has been studied rather extensively with overweight and obese individuals with one theory being that eating may reduce anxiety so some overeat to reduce stress rather than listening to the body’s normal physiological hunger or satiety cues. This idea or theory is often coined as “emotional eating.” This theory, however, looks primarily at how our emotions lead us to eat and not the other way around.

So exactly how can what we eat make us feel a certain way? Many times to make the connection we need only to look back at our last meal. It probably did more than just satisfy your hunger. Likely, it also reenergized you and made you feel more alert. You were probably happier afterwards as well. The impact food can have on our mood really seems quite evident once you consider how often it plays a large role in major life events as well. After all, we already invest lots of emotion into preparing food and it is often the centerpiece behind many emotional occasions like weddings, birthdays, and holiday get-togethers.

Here are a few other ways food has been shown to affect our mood:

1. SKIPPING MEALS

This can cause you to become tired, short-tempered, nervous, jittery, afraid or confused. Why? It’s often due to hypoglycemia (low blood-sugar). When you go too long without eating your body’s blood sugar levels drop and as a result, the aforementioned emotional side-effects follow.

Helpful hint: aim to eat, whether a meal or a snack, every 3-4 hours to prevent dips in blood sugar levels.

2. HIGH-FAT MEALS

After eating meals high in fat content the most common feeling is tiredness. This is due to the fact that fat is harder for our bodies to digest and having our bodies work harder makes us feel lethargic.

Helpful hint: try to prepare meals with a balance of macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat) to ensure a well-balanced diet.

3. LACK OF MICRONUTRIENTS

Many vitamin and mineral deficiencies are also linked to changes in our emotional health. Mood changes such as aggressiveness, hostility, hyperactivity, depression, fatigue, and irritability are often linked to B-vitamin, folic acid, magnesium, iron, zinc, or other vitamin or mineral deficiencies.

Helpful hint: eat a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, dairy, and whole grains. Consider a daily multivitamin if you feel your diet is not well-balanced or not adequately providing the nutrients you need.

Rob Masterson on Twitter.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2011 4:04 PM

    I can attest to the merits of this article. I found out I was malnourished due to a health condition that I had most of my life and was only recently discovered. My doctor had to prescribe high levels of folic acid, B12, and vitamin D to get my body back in synch and it has helped my mood and energy and even physcial strength and stamina.

    I would recommend these supplements daily to anyone that suffers from depression, anxiety, lack of energy and even physical pain. I no longer have to take pain meds and I used to have to take more than the recommended daily requirement. Like most I don’t always eat the way I should and our busy lives seem to deplete these necessary nutrients in volumes just because of stress.

    • September 20, 2011 5:18 PM

      Thank you for your comment Catherine,

      Glad to hear you are doing better! Stress and poor diet are certainly big contributors to vitamin and mineral depletions and deficiencies. As in your case, vitamin supplementation can often help treat or cure certain ailments and illnesses too. It’s amazing what nutrition can offer to our health, isn’t it?

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