The Food Mood Connection

What do you do to remedy a “bad mood”? For many of us, it's easy to turn to eating to soothe emotional anxieties, but we can practice a few tricks to reinstate a healthy relationship to food.

A few steps to begin with are:

1. Understanding mood states- what are they, what triggers “bad moods”, how people remedy “bad moods”, how moods can enhance/sabotage diet compliance, best strategies for mood enhancement.

2. Foods that can affect mood

3. Redefining your relationship with food

4. Experiential- mindful eating, the serotonin booster, relaxation exercises.


What causes mood states?

  • External events?  Someone is nice or nasty…
  • Physiological and biological conditions really provide the underpinnings of mood state
  • Personality type is also part of the framework.


We use different ways to self regulate moods, most are habitual.  We use these as a way to self medicate:

  1. Call friends- more women do this than men
  2. Give ourselves a pep talk- this is a cognitive strategy
  3. Use music – about 50% of folks do this
  4. Do routine tasks- especially older folks- do chores, garden or turn to spiritual activities
  5. Exercise – only 1/3 do this even though this is the best mood enhancer
  6. Eating- 1/3 admit to this as a way to self regulate.  Eating produces immediate results, esp high sugar foods, even if we feel guilty afterwards.
  7. Alcohol, cigarettes or drugs
  8. Caffeine
  9. Hobbies
  10. Shopping
  11. T.V. watching- least effective but used by 75% of folks


Food as a mood corrector

First we have the thought… then we get overwhelmed by it, start rationalizing. Then we act.   We do this even in the face of resolve.


Mostly because of and when are feeling bad.  Sometimes we may even do this to enhance a good mood like eating at a party.


Managing your mood is the key to controlling inappropriate eating.


Defining Moods

Bad moods are characterized by low energy

Good moods maybe characterized by high energy.

CALM ENERGY- state of flow 

TENSE ENEGY- energetic but pent up, likely to crash at some point

TENSE TIREDNESS- resources depleted, tense, anxious nervous

CALM TIREDNESS- late in the day, can be pleasant.






Food offers an immediate correction for low energy.

This is the reason why diets are often broken late in the afternoon and evening.

These are generally times of low energy


Tension or anxious moods often also cause us to eat.  The combination of tension and low energy (feeling drained) is often the trigger.


Boredom – a kind of low energy/ tense state can also be a trigger.


Management of unwanted urges to eat is really a matter of controlling negative mood states, especially momentary ones.


When we become aware of our moods and how they control our eating habits, much of the battle can be won.

Hunger and satiety will then begin to regulate our intake.


The Obesity Epidemic

Is there are relationship to the prevalence of stress and depression in the nation?

Are the Brits healthier than Americans because they take more vacations?


Feeling rushed and stressed may trigger greater fast food consumption with fewer fruits and vegetables eaten, fewer family meals at home all of which results in higher caloric intake.  There is acceleration of life in general with all the technology, desire for instant communications with many folks not having any down time.

Loss of sleep( less leptin) resulting in more fatigue, causing more depression as well and how do we remedy it….

Elevated cortisol levels from chronic stress deplete our glycogen stores triggering the desire to eat high sugar foods ( Pamela Peeke)


Exercise as a mood elevator

Many people know it is beneficial but don’t do it.  Is it because of mood?

Moderate exercise will not increase appetite.  

10 minutes of moderate exercise can elevate your mood and energize you for 60 min or more.  20 minute can revitalize, improve your affect, make you feel more tranquil and relaxed.

Strenuous exercise will cause an immediate reduction in tension with a boost in energy about 1-2 hours later.

Weight training reduces anxiety with helping to relax muscles.

Exercise raised self esteem and self efficacy- the belief that you can accomplish something.

It is important to make that cognitive connection between the exercise and improved mood.

Exercise seems to innoculate against stress.  

Begin the victorious cycle- more experience people have with exercise and the mental benefits, the more they exercise.

It is important when beginning that you make the exercise pleasurable- not too strenuous until you get to the victorious cycle point.


Weight Maintenance

What causes the weight regain?  It is usually mood which can start the vicious cycle.

Low energy, deprivation-depression anger, anxiety boredom, loneliness.

……Inappropriate eating


Food Cravings

97% of women and 68% of men admitted to these

50% of the time in females it was chocolate.


First the thought, then the urge, then the action.

Tension is usually there at the onset until the urge is filled.

Stimulus, response and reinforcement ( mmnn.. that chocolate tasted good.)

This is how habits develop.


Change the thought and address the tension


Planned Overeating

Parties, the holiday season, we do a lot of rationalizing.  Bythe folks that participate in the weight loss registry do not make exceptions for special events.


Time of Day

For most folks it is late afternoon and evening.  Our energy is low, we feel hungry but it is not yet dinner time.  This is risky time for overeating or eating inappropriate foods.

Look at levels of hunger chart, stay in 3-6 range.  

Know your risk times and plan accordingly.



1st kind- too much to do rushing around, tend to grab something that will produce quick energy ( and high caffeine) to keep going.  Then when you are done you feel tired, have cravings, feel justified in succumbing because of all your hard work…

2nd kind- high pressure but not time related.  This may cause tension or not depending on your energy level.  If you feel high energy these challenges are seem as positive.

So if we feel tension and low energy, may resort tohigh energy foods as the remedy.

Each time we do this we reinforce the habit and these daily decisions add up to unwanted pounds.


Evening tiredness

Too early to go to bed, but we are tired, so we eat to perk up.  If we watch T.V. we will have the additional stimulation of T.V. ads to eat high energy foods.



This can be viewed as tense tiredness/restlessness which we remedy but using food to boostmood.


Lots of these feeling may be too suble for people to notice, but by becoming aware, we can change the behavior.


Candy Bar Experiment

Both groups were given candy bars.  One group was told to stay seated.  The other went for a10 in walk.  The first group almost always ate the candy bar, while the second did not.

Conclusions- separate the thought and action; appetite and desire can be remediated by a walk.


Further evidence…

Stimulants reduce appetite because they increase energy!




CALM ENERGY- state of flow 

TENSE ENEGY- energetic but pent up, likely to crash at some point

TENSE TIREDNESS- resources depleted, tense, anxious nervous

CALM TIREDNESS- late in the day, can be pleasant.


Other factors that have an effect

Muscle tension- related to the freeze state.  Relaxing muscles, moving around help to undo this.  ( Worry beads)

Changing breath pattern- diaphragmatic breathing reduces general arousal state.



Foods that trigger moods states



Foods causing indigestion, high fat meals- make one sluggish.



Omega 3- fatty acids can improve depression.

Chocolate- 1/2oz of dark and increase seratonin levels



Redefining your relationship with food

Become aware of your moods.

Notice your daily cycle of energy peaks and valleys.

Plan your work, exercise, meals and snacks to maximize energy, exercise and flow.

Use stress reduction techniques like muscle relaxation to reduce tension and breathing techniques to lower anxiety.

Guided imagery CD’s

Encourage mindful eating

Thanksgiving for your Health


With Thanksgiving just around the corner, most of us are thinking about preparing for the holiday.  You may be looking for recipes, perhaps already shopping and cooking.  How do you enjoy the day and the season without becoming the stuffed turkey?  Planning for your health during the upcoming holidays is a vital part of this process.  With the last few months of stress and worry about the economy and rising prices, you may have already gained a few pounds by eating to deal with negative emotions.  It is easy to spiral down even further when your clothes start feeling tight or have a shock reaction when you step on that scale. 

A typical thanksgiving meal can be upwards of 3000 Calories.  It would take 28 miles of walking to burn that off.  Come January 1st you don’t want to have another crisis to deal with. So use the time now to think through how you will keep in shape and avoid theyoyo experience that has befallen the stock market.  

A good way to begin is to find some recipes that are lower in calories, or make some adjustments to the ones you have.  I have included a few recipe ideas below from a cookbook I coauthored.  The good news is that some of the traditional thanksgiving fare is quite healthy.  Begin with good-for-you pupus, so don’t get too filled up before the main event.  Think about unusual vegetables or ones who don’t eat very often.  These might be radishes, fennel, jicama (chopsuey potato), brussel sprouts (steamed and cooled), kohlrabi or cauliflower.  Most of these are available at your local Farmer’s Market.  Some low fat dips like salsa, a nonfat yogurt and mustard mix, low fat hummus set alongside the veggie platter will be very appealing.

Turkey breast is very low in calories, so enjoy that part of the meal.  Limit the gravy and use an alternative to butter to season the bird. Also use a cooking method that doesn’t cause the breast to dry out.  Cranberries are virtually calorie free.  Sweeten slightly with some fruit instead of using the cloyingly sweet canned sauce.  Make vegetables a central part of your meal.  Fresh salad greens are a great starter course.  Roasting veggies brings out their natural sugars and they only need to be brushed with a little oil to get them to brown.  Yams and pumpkin are very tasty when prepared this way without the usual sugary toppings.

Cook the stuffing separately from the turkey.  It will shorten the turkey cooking time, save energy and keep the stuffing from getting soaked with the fat drippings.  You can use a flavored broth or a seasoning like Butter Buds, fresh herbs (sage is great) and some dried fruit to give your stuffing flavor.  

When it comes to desserts, limit the number of options served if you are the host.  People often feel obliged to taste everything, so fewer options usually translate to fewer calories. Prepare desserts in small individual containers.  You can use 1/2c baking cruets or foil cupcake holders.  This way portions sizes will be reasonable.  Skip the crust on the pie and top your pumpkin or apple with about 1 tablespoon per serving of crumble (a brown sugar, butter, oats and flour mix).  Use nonfat evaporated milk for the pumpkin custard, the missing fat will not be noticed.  Use a low fat whipped topping.  Have a nice platter of peeled and sliced in-season citrus, garnished with mint or topped with a little ginger syrup. This will be very refreshing after a heavy meal.  

Skip the foods you eat year round like rolls and mashed potatoes.  These provide unnecessary calories to an already heavy meal.  Another way to limit the splurge is to use a large plate for salad and veggies with some turkey breast and a dessert size plate for any other items.  Know that you will probably be eating some of these dishes as leftovers so a small taste is all you really need.

Watch the calories in beverages.  If you are going to have wine, sip it slowly and limit yourself to 1 or 2 glasses.  Use sparking water with a twist of lime or a splash of juice. Good Earth tea, chilled is deliciously sweet without added sugar or include other non caloric beverages instead of calorie laden ones.

Best of all, bank some calories ahead of time by exercising a few hours that morning before spending them.  This concept is one we should vigorously embrace both for calories and $$.  Take your group for a hike or swim, or plan for a walk after the meal if you eat early.  You can put on some nice dance music or play some active games after the meal to prevent everyone from slumping onto the couches.  Really give thanks for the resources we have by buying as many locally grown products as you can.  You can enjoy the day and feel really good afterwards.

The recipes are from the “Healthwise Quantity Cookbook” by Turner and Aronowitz


Tasty Turkey (202 Calories per 4 oz portion)

1 turkey (15#). If you are cooking a smaller one reduce the amount of basting sauce.

1/2c each vermouth and orange juice concentrate, thawed.

Prepare the turkey by washing inside and out.  Heat the oven to 325’ F. Make a slit at the thigh joints, so they flair out.   This will help to cook the dark meat more quickly so the breast will not be overdone.  Insert a thermometer into the dark meat at the joint.  Baste with the juice and vermouth mix and continue to baste periodically.  Cover the breast with foil if it becomes too dark.  The turkey is ready when the thermometer reads 165’F.


Holiday Fruit Stuffing ( 216 Cal per 1 cup serving)

1 lbfresh onions, chopped

1 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced

½ lb chopped celery

1lb tart apples, chopped

3 oz dried apricots, chopped

2 1/2cfat free chicken or vegetable broth

1 ½ lb of wholewheat bread, cubed and dried a little.

2 pkg Butter Buds

1/3c chopped pecans

1 ½ T sage

2 tsp rosemary

3/4c chopped parsley

Pepper to taste

Cook the vegetables and fruit in a pot with the broth until the onions are tender.  Add the remaining ingredients and bake in a covered dish for 30 min at 325F.  Remove cover and bake 10 min more.  Makes 12 cups.


CranberryOrange Relish (68 Calories per 1/4c)

1 lb cranberries, coarsely chopped

2 sweet oranges, peeled and seeded and chopped

2 tsp grated orange peel 

1 ¼ c apple juice concentrate, thawed

1/2c water

1 ½ tsp Cinnamon 

Cook all ingredients except the cinnamon at a simmer for 5 minutes.  Add cinnamon and serve well chilled. Makes 3 cups

Be Superlative — Say Yes to Super Foods and No to Supersizing

What I want to do today is use the Superfood lists as a jumping off point of discussion on the latest in food and nutrition.  The pendulum seems to swing constantly on this topic but the one thing that has stayed the course is the recommendation to eat fruits and vegetables.  Our grandmothers told us to and scientists and researchers are constantly coming up with more reasons why we should do fill our daily diet with these powerhouses.


We have a tendency to overcomplicate.  Here are some very simple words of wisdom.

So if you don’t remember anything else..


Have your plate/meal/snack be at least 50% fruit or vegetable.

Try to eat at least 7 different ( naturally ) colored foods every day.

And while we are talking about super- watch out for supersizing (more about that later).

Eat local produced foods and shop farmers markets when you can.  The foods will be fresher and likely more nutritious plus you will be helping the local economy and saving the planet.


Okay- lets get down to some specifics and go through the lists.  I also want to talk about the big divide- the canyon between what we want to/know we should do and what we actually do.  This is where I can help you individually to see how you can make this happen in your lives.  It is sometimes a minefield out there in the real eating world.  So what strategies can you use to successfully negotiate it?

A search on Google generated 1,000,000 hits on the topic of superfoods!


Cranberries, blueberries, blackberries These are jam-packed with antioxidants called anthocyanins and polyphenols, which also have anti-inflammatory qualities. Try to work in a cup of berries a day. New on the frontier are black currants- supposedly have 2x the antioxidant capacity of blueberries, 4x Vit C of oranges and more potassium than bananas.  They have been off the radar because they were banned in the US to protect the lumber industry.  It was thought that white pine blister rust was spread by currants. This was lifted in 1960’s but some states neglected to change their legislation.  Currently, Maple Lane Farms in Preston CT is the largest producer. Zante currants from Greece are actually mini raisins and are not the same thing. This discovery about black currants reinforces the theory that the darker the color the better.

Other berries worth mentioning are Acai which come from Brazil, Goji berries from Asia.  Also include pomegranates- although not technically a berry.  A recent article I just read lauded its anti gingivitis properties so now you can get toothpaste made with pomegranate extract.

Another piece of information which I just picked up and I know will be met with great enthusiasm is that alcohol can enhance the antioxidant capacity of fruits –this was recently reported in the Journal ofthe Science of Food and Agriculture.  So that berry daquiri might be a good thing.  But as in all matters it is good not to overdo this.

 Leafy greens (such as kale or spinach) They're full of lutein, another super-antioxidant; it's been proven to protect against macular degeneration of the optic nerves, thus protecting eyesight. Scientists recommend eating a cup of cooked kale or one to two cups of raw spinach each day.  The leafy greens are fabulous not only for their antioxidant content but they are extremely low in kcals. Eating a big raw leafy salad takes quite a lot of work and time and can help us from getting in too many cals before we get that message from our stomach to our brains to say stop.  Most of us probably have some volunteer greens( also know as weeds) growing in our gardens- dandelion greens, purslane ( a fleshy green), minors lettuce.  In Eurpoe it has been the tradition after the winter to go collecting those new shoots of spring to help detoxify after the winter.  I must say when I eat bitter green like arugula, I feel like I am getting a good detox.

Broccoli - The best food on the planet to prevent cancer.  Actually broccoli sprouts are thought to have amazing anti cancer properties

 Almonds and walnuts  These nuts are a fantastic source of omega-6 fatty acids, as well as phytosterols (plant sterols) and vitamin E (tocopherols). People who regularly consume nuts tend to have both a lowered risk of Parkinson's and lower cholesterol. Try to eat a quarter cup of these nuts a day whenever you can. 

Actually I value nuts for their monounsaturated fats(almonds, cashews, macnuts) and omega 3 fatty acids( walnuts).  Another good source of omega 3’s is pumpkin seeds.  I prefer to buy nuts raw to ensure freshness.  You can lightly roast them right before cooking. But keep those portion sizes small as they are high in calories.

 Flaxseed  It contains fiber and omega-3 fatty acids that help to clear plaque and bad fats from the cardiovascular system. The fiber also protects against colon cancer. For best results, buy flaxseed ground (or grind it yourself) and throw one teaspoon to one tablespoon a day into everything from meat loaf to muffins.   Flaxseeds also contain phytoestrogens which can be very helpful for those whose natural supply is diminishing.  No, it is not a problem for men to use it.



Beans A great low-fat, low-calorie source of protein and an easy way to help control your weight and your blood sugar. They are a very underated food.  Canned beans are very easy to use- just rinse them well.  Add to soups, salads, any entree.

Oats A sure-fire way to lower your cholesterol. Again it is that soluble fiber acting as the garbage collection system of the body.  Barley has a similar effect.

Oranges The most readily available source of vitamin C, which in turn lowers the rate of most causes of death in this country, for example, heart disease and cancer. Eat your oranges as fruit whenever possible vs juice.  Or keep juice down to a max 4oz per day

Pumpkin Loaded with phytonutrients, which keep our skin young and help prevent damage from sunlight.  Those deep colors are the winners- pumpkin is available in a variety of ways from the oldstyle canned- which has usually has no additives to cut up ready to cook to simple soups in a box ( Imagine brand is my favorite)

Wild salmon A guaranteed way to lower your risk for cardiac-related death. The benefit of salmon is the omega 3 fatty acids.  It comes from the algae the fish eat- so if they are fed other types of things it will affect their nutritional content, besides the environmental issues. Sardines and herring are also good sources.  Since we are on the topic of fish, ensure that you are conscious about the environmental impact- both for your health and the planet. Some types of fish are becoming very scarce due to overfishing. Fortunately there are some conscious chef’s out there who are tying to be aware of what they serve.  Also contaminationis an issue- mercury being one.  In general the bigger the fish the higher risk of contamination.  I have heard that the selenium content can help to offset the mercury content.  Check the Monterey Bay Aquarium website for a list of safe fish to consume.

Soy The only complete vegetarian source of protein. Soy is one of those foods that has been on the pendulum track.  If you have estrogen sensitive breast cancer you might limit your intake but otherwise eat soy in its more natural/traditional forms like tofu, tempeh, soymilk, edamame, miso.  Avoid soy protein isolate added to foods.

Tea -- green or black: The easiest and cheapest no-calorie way to avoid heart disease and cancer.   I am very much in favor of tea having a British colonial background.  Green tea is still bandied around had having the capacity to raise metabolism, but not sure that it is super significant- you still need to eat right and exercise more!  If you buy tea in a bottle- watch for sugar additives.  I like to make my own iced by throwing my tea bags in a jar in the fridge then adding whatever flavor is handy- mint, lemon, orange, lilikoi, frozen berries…

Tomatoes One of the easiest ways for men to avoid prostate cancer is the consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products. It is the lycopene.  Don’t forget to use dried tomatoes- they are a very low cal low salt flavoring addition to anything savory or simply chopped on top of salads

Skinless turkey breast The leanest meat source of protein on the planet. If it is free range – all the better.. 

Yogurt A tasty, easy way to boost your immune system. Probiotics are going to be gaining more recognition of their benefits. Besides helping to regulate the digestive system, they are thought to boost immunity against cancer.  They change the acidity of the colon so carcinogens are less likely to form.  Sauerkraut, kim chee, miso and other fermented foods will have them too if they are not pasteurized.  Look for Lactobacillus or bifida bacterium.  The bacteria need to survive the acidity of the stomach to be useful and that is why yogurt and alkaline foods is helpful. A large number- 4-10 billion colony forming units is necessary.  If you take these in supplement form, check for recommendations.

Spirulina (blue-green algae) Spirulina contains not only the antioxidant phytocyanin but also some protein, plus omega fatty acids. Once a mainstay food of the Aztecs, spirulina additionally works as an ibuprofenlike nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory. Personally I prefer my fish to eat the algae.

Other foods not on this list are chocolate or cocoa and wine.  Dark choc (be wary of too much for obvious reasons) and wine both have antioxidants.


A word on portion size. The leader in current research is Dr Brain Wansink at Cornell Univ.  He gathers his info by conducting very funny experiments on all kinds of unsuspecting folks.  Some facts:-race, social class etc do not make a difference, once the food is placed in front of them.  Also hunger does not seem to play a role.  Plate sizes have increased by 36% in homes, recipe portions in the Joy of Cooking have grown by 42%, there is a 10 fold more large size boxes of foods in supermarkets.  And restaurant foods portions have grown by 30-50% with the supersized plates 250% larger.  Our ability to estimate portions is significantly diminished ( even among nutrition professionals) because we rely on consumption norms.   (Some astounding information :the number of calories consumed at a tailgate party= 4800)

 Be conscious is the best advice- use small plates and small bowls and use small serving bowls. Of course the types of foods you eat will make a difference which brings us back to the advice of the superfoods, which for the most part are low in calories. For more on this see his book- Mindless Eating.

So how are you going to put this into practice? Ask, observe those around you who seem to be successful- what do you do? A recent study implied obesity is contagious!  We tend to do what those around us do.

Have social events be activity oriented and not only eating related.

You can positively affect yourself and others by taking the healthy road!