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  • The Chopping Blog

Unlocking the Relationship Between Food and Mood

Leah J
Posted by Leah J on May 22, 2024

There’s an intricate connection between what we eat and how we feel. It's a fascinating journey that unveils how our food choices influence our moods and vice versa, creating what often feels like a never-ending cycle. Have you ever found yourself reaching for that tub of ice cream after a particularly rough day, mindlessly scooping away while binge-watching your favorite show? If so, you're not alone. Many of us have experienced the undeniable link between our emotions and our food choices.

But beyond the occasional indulgence, there's growing interest in understanding how our diets might impact our mental health in more profound ways. Can what we eat truly affect mood disorders like depression? Let’s explore this question.


How Our Mood Influences Our Food

Our current state of mind plays a significant role in determining what ends up on our plates. Whether stressed, tired, or feeling down, we often gravitate towards comfort foods—those sugary, indulgent treats that provide temporary comfort. This is known as emotional or stress eating and it stems from a need to soothe our emotions rather than nourish our bodies.

Mindless eating also becomes more prevalent when our mood takes a hit. Think back to moments when you've consumed snacks without even registering how much you've eaten—all while absorbed in a TV binge or lost in thought.

Mood Food Graph


Research Insights

Recent studies shed light on how different moods influence our food preferences. Surprisingly, both positive and negative emotions lead to distinct choices. Those in good spirits are more inclined to opt for healthier options like fruits, while those feeling down are drawn to indulgent treats like chocolate. Furthermore, our perception of time plays a crucial role. Positive moods often lead to decisions based on future health benefits, whereas negative moods prioritize immediate gratification.

Research also suggests that diets high in processed foods and sugars increase the risk of depression and anxiety, perpetuating the cycle. Adopting a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats and limiting processed foods, sweets, and fried foods can significantly improve mood and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. 


Breaking the Cycle

In order to make a change, it's essential to develop strategies to navigate this relationship between the food you eat and your moods. Identifying whether your hunger is emotional or physical is the first step. So before you pause and jump into eating, pause to assess your hunger, especially if you recently had a meal or snack. Here are some ways to tell the difference between emotional or physical hunger:

  • Where is the feeling originating from? A lack of energy, stomach growling—these indicate a physical need for food. If thoughts of eating are coming from your head without any physical signs—this mostly likely means hunger is emotional.
  • All of a sudden, you feel the need to eat. Emotional hunger comes on quickly, whereas, a physical need is much more gradual as your body uses up energy.
  • A physical hunger can be satisfied by eating just about any food. When you have a very specific craving, this could swing to the emotional side of the hunger spectrum.
  • How do you feel after you eat? If you are satisfied, then you likely fulfilled your body’s physical need for food. Emotional eating is often followed by feelings of guilt.

From there, explore alternative comfort measures beyond food. Engage in activities that boost your mood, whether it's a brisk walk, a soothing bath, or a phone call with a friend. And don't underestimate the power of fruits and vegetables—they not only nourish your body but can also elevate your spirits.

Clams and pasta 

Good Mood Foods

Certain nutrients have been singled out for their mood-boosting properties:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon, nuts and nut oils and other fortified products have been associated with lower rates of depression.
  • Vitamins B12 (eggs, meat, poultry, fish), folate (green leafy veggies, whole grains, nuts, fruits, eggs, fish), and vitamin D (sun exposure, fortified dairy, some fish) all play crucial roles in maintaining optimal brain function and mood regulation.
  • Even chocolate in small amounts has its place, particularly dark chocolate, which contains polyphenols that may enhance mood and reduce stress.

So, next time you're tempted to reach for a whole pint of ice cream, pause and consider your current state of mind. Are you feeling a physical or emotional hunger? Remember, it’s absolutely okay to enjoy food indulgences like ice cream when you want them because being totally restrictive can also impact your mood! Instead of eating straight from the pint, put a scoop in a bowl. By making informed dietary choices and prioritizing mental well-being, we can break free from the vicious cycle of emotional eating and cultivate a healthier, happier lifestyle.

There’s no better mood booster than getting outside this summer to cook, eat and enjoy the company of friends and family. The outdoor patio at The Chopping Block opens this Saturday! Get your summer cooking season started by signing up for a grilling class or get a group together for a private cooking event on the patio. 

See all of our Grilling classes

Topics: healthy, healthy cooking, nutrition, healthy eating, mood, emotional eating

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