Food & Your Mood -  Is There A Connection?

When do you turn to food?

Girl eating popcorn from the couch and watching TV.

Do you often turn to food for comfort when you’re tired, bored, stressed, or anxious?

If you do this regularly, you are not alone. In fact, the majority of the time we are eating we are not necessarily hungry, but are eating for emotional reasons. It’s important to recognize these trends in yourself, not in a way to make yourself feel guilty for doing so, but to become aware of your habits so that you can make better food choices that make you feel good.

How your mood affects your food choices

Have you ever noticed that when you’re in a bad mood, you may eat differently? It is human nature to crave comfort foods — particularly refined carbs like bread, pasta, and sweets when we’re struggling with negative emotions. If this happens once in a while, this may not be of concern. But if you’re doing this on a regular basis — often times it can lead to overeating, bingeing, and intense feelings of guilt or shame around what you just ate.

Sometimes, you may be eating simply out of habit. Maybe you originally started a cycle of eating chips or ice cream in front of the tv at night as a way to relax after a stressful day, but now even when you’re not stressed, you’re continuing to do it. Being aware of this cycle is key so you can start to eat for actual hunger, not just because it’s “there.”

Bowls of different ice creams out on a table

Learning to identify these habits is crucial to learning your own triggers for eating the way you do. In this way, you can then develop healthier coping mechanisms that do not involve eating when you’re not truly hungry.

On the contrary, if you just had a great workout or are in a good mood, you most likely will make different food choices. You will crave the foods that will enable you to continue to feel good and give you long-lasting energy.

How your food choices can affect your mood

While your mood can directly influence your food choices, the food choices you make can then impact your future mood. The particular types of foods you eat on a regular basis can affect your mood and overall energy level.

The top foods that may worsen your mood are refined carbs, red meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages. Simple carbs and sweets give you a quick energy boost, but then leads to blood sugar crashes, throwing your hormones and insulin levels out of whack. This leads to reduced energy, altered mood, and feelings of anxiousness. It also can lead to excessive hunger and overeating again once that food is broken down. There is not yet a clear explanation as to why red meat may negatively affect your mood, but since it is high in saturated fat it can make you feel overly full and guilty after eating too much.

Person cutting up red meat

In the research, a Mediterranean-style type of diet has shown to be the most beneficial in improving mood and overall health. This diet consists of plenty of fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, olive oil, lean meats like chicken and turkey, whole grains, and is minimal in red meat.

Read more about red meat here!

There is not a large amount of research yet on specific nutrients and their relationship to your mood. However, there is a connection found between people that have more Vitamin D in their diets and a reduced risk of depression that has been consistent in studies. Foods high in Vitamin D include salmon, sardines, tuna, mushrooms, and fortified dairy. Following a nutritionally balanced Mediterranean-style diet is your best bet to boost your mood.

Hi there! I’m Melissa, a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist and Mindful Eating Coach.

I help women who are chronic dieters and struggle with emotional eating move away from restrictive habits that lead to vicious yo-yo weight cycles.

My approach to nutrition counseling is judgment-free. I help my clients by first determining the root cause of their eating habits, then addressing proper nutrition in order to create sustainable change. I incorporate mindful and intuitive eating practices in my sessions, and helps my clients get to a point of maintaining healthy habits consistently.

I practice in a small town called Milford in Connecticut, but since I primarily coach my clients online, I work with clients from all over the world.

When I’m not coaching, you can find me cooking, reading, and running outside — no matter what the weather.

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