Please know that you’re not crazy if you eat when you’re upset. Food does make us feel better for a number of reasons, among which is that it lifts our mood. However, as you know, it also may make your mood plummet after you’ve eaten (heavily of fat or sugar) or overeaten. Here are some insights on the subject from “Mood, food, and obesity” by Minati Singh (Frontiers in Psychology, 9/1/14, doi: 10.3389/pfsyg.2014.00925).
First off, here’s a description of the mechanism for why you feel better when you eat emotionally: “Food is a potent natural reward and food intake is a complex process. Reward and gratification associated with food consumption leads to dopamine (DA) production, which in turn activates reward and pleasure centers in the brain. This type of repetitive behavior . . . leads to the activation of brain reward pathways that eventually overrides other signals of satiety and hunger.”
The article makes an interesting distinction between mood and emotion: “Mood is characterized by psychological arousal in the absence of obvious stimuli that can last for several minutes or longer. In contrast, emotions are short-term affective responses to reinforcing stimuli. Of all emotions, a study shows that frequent emotions, such as anger and joy, have the strongest influence on appetite and food choice.”
Unfortunately, on the two-way street between mood and food, you may eat to elevate your mood, but then “prolonged high-fat feeding leads to negative emotional states, increased stress sensitivity, and altered basal corticosterone levels.” You eat to lift your spirits, but you’re actually causing them—physiologically, not just self-esteem-wise—to plummet. What a pattern: you’re upset, you eat, you feel better, you feel worse.
They don’t call certain foods mood-enhancers for nothing. “Chocolate contains psychoactive chemicals such as andamines that stimulate the brain and result in a good mood. The unique taste and feel from chocolate in the mouth leads to . . . craving due to sensory factors associated with” eating it. However, if you think of chocolate as a “bad” food, it may produce post-consumption guilt which results in a bad mood. Omega-3 fatty acids also influence mood. Low levels of omega-3 can “play a role in major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance abuse, and attention deficit disorder.” Low levels of iron, thiamine (vitamin B1), and folic acid are all associated with depression. Finally, high fat diets not only exacerbate depression but, in rats at least, “increased anxiety-like behavior”. To read the rest of this highly informative article, go to Frontiers/Food, Mood and Obesity.
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