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