Food for Your Mood

The food you eat can influence the way you feel, and the way you feel can influence the food you eat! Understand why you are more likely to opt for unhealthy food items when you’re feeling distressed, and check out some strategies to make healthier food choices.

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Dean Drobot / Shutterstock
Dean Drobot / Shutterstock

Have you ever found yourself stuffing your mouth with a tub of ice-cream after a bad day at work? Or have you ever devoured a large, cheesy pizza after an ugly fight with your friend? Maybe you’ve gorged on whatever chocolates or chips you find at home when you’ve felt extremely stressed for an upcoming work presentation.

Food can be an important source of comfort when you are having a rough day (think of “soul food” or “comfort food”). You may find yourself craving certain food items when you feel a certain way. This just goes to show that your mood is closely linked to the food you eat -— or at least want to eat.

Chocolates and Chips for an Upcoming Work Presentation

When you are in a stressful situation, your body activates its fight-or-flight response, preparing you to either tackle or escape from the stressor. To do this, you need enough energy and resources. You may, therefore, find yourself craving foods rich in sugar and carbs – for instance, chocolates or chips – that can give you instant energy. While gorging on chocolates or chips might bring some instant relief, you might end up feeling miserable a little while later. This is because many stressors that you face today are more cognitive and less physical in nature (in all likelihood, you are more likely to be faced with a stressful work presentation than a life-threatening tsunami). The energy produced in your body via sugar and carbohydrates is not fully or properly utilised, as the task at hand, in many cases, requires mental over physical effort. This excessive energy is then transformed into fat deposits, which in the long run can put you at risk for various health problems, such as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Ice Cream for a Bad Day at Work

Feeling rejected, unloved, or disappointed can trigger your body to crave foods rich in carbohydrates and/or fat. The smooth texture that is typical of such food items — like creamy ice-cream — can help comfort you, and the rich sugar content can give your mood a quick boost. Additionally, ice-cream or other ‘comfort food’ can bring back pleasant memories from the past — which can further help your low mood. Did you eat a lot of ice cream as a kid? Most people have, which is why having ice cream can give rise to feelings of safety and happiness which you might have experienced as a child.

The flip side, though, is that foods rich in fat and carbohydrates can make you feel lethargic, sluggish and slow. In the long run, it can also increase your chances of several physical and mental health problems, such as obesity and depression. 

Cheesy Pizza After an Ugly Fight

An ugly fight where you lost your cool can affect your eating habits. While some may eat a lot when angry, others tend to not feel hungry. Studies show that anger can make you reach out for fried, salty, or chewy food. Eating this kind of food can distract you from your anger and may be cathartic. A cheesy pizza, or a plate full of french fries, can actually help you calm yourself down when you are angry. However, studies have also found that in the long run, such junk food can actually interfere with your health and make you unhappy. 

The bottom line is that your mood can influence the food you eat, and the food you eat has a long-term impact on your physical and emotional health. In the long run, the food you crave in times of distress (which, in most cases, is highly processed food) can decrease your feelings of well-being and happiness. Even though this kind of food can be comforting and help you feel calmer at the moment, over time it can have negative effects on your body and mind. It can make you lethargic, tired, and may also cause you to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. This can lead to negative emotions such as shame or guilt and can even lead to eating disorders or depression.

So what can you do?

The first step is to recognise when you are craving a food item because of your emotional state. Ask yourself if you want to eat something because you are truly hungry or because you are feeling stressed, sad or angry. If you find yourself resorting to a food item due to emotional distress, you can find some healthier alternatives to consume: 

  • Instead of a pizza, try having a sandwich made with whole wheat bread.
  • Instead of dessert, try having fruits with peanut butter.
  • Instead of chips, try having mixed nuts or popcorn.
  • Instead of milk chocolate, try having granola bars or dark chocolate.
  • Instead of ice cream, try having smoothies or flavoured yoghurt.
  • Instead of carbonated drinks, try having fresh fruit or vegetable juices.

While it is okay to give into your cravings at times, remember the importance of having well-balanced meals and incorporating fresh and healthy food in your diet. You can save this list of healthy food alternatives and make a habit of reaching out for them when you find yourself feeling emotionally down.

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