It is not uncommon to regulate how we feel with food choice and quantity for that immediate pleasurable response of eating.
Food influences reward centers in the brain. These reward centers are responsible for release of dopamine and serotonin; chemical messengers that regulate our pleasure responses and mood. This is often the reason for food cravings.
The desire for pleasure from food can overrun cues of hunger or satiety, as we eat for reasons other than physical need. The bummer deal with eating to mask a negative emotion is that it is temporary, and the ill feelings will likely return, potentially leading to more food intake.
Simplest advice: take a step back before eating and ask yourself “Am I truly hunger? What else might be driving me to eat right now?” If it is not hunger driving your desire to eat, take the time to determine if there is unfavorable emotions you may be trying to mask and is there an alternative to food that could help get at the root of the emotion?
Many mood conditions, most common being depression and anxiety, are associated with abnormal eating behaviors. Emotional stress can increase or decrease appetite and influence frequency, quantity and quality of food choices.
Depression in particular is specifically linked to abdominal obesity and poor diet. Also associated with depression are low levels of omega-3 fatty acids, thiamin, iron and folate as well as high fat diets. Adjusting these nutrients back to normal levels in the body has the potential to boost energy and improve mood.
Foods to include in your daily diet for best mood:
- Beans and lentils
- Green leafy veggies
- Nuts and seeds
Caffeine is a substance that can influence mood and should be addressed on an individual basis. In the short term it can increase alertness and improve mood, but it can also be a source of anxiety and result in a mood and energy crash when the affects wear off. Other negative withdrawal symptoms include severe fatigue and headaches. Be aware of how you particularly respond to caffeine, under varying circumstances.
Overall, food is, and should be, enjoyable… but it is best not treated as a band aid.
Eat food to nourish, to satiate and to be well!
Minati Singh. Mood, Food and Obesity. Front Psychol 2014; 5(925). Online at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4150387/