It is common knowledge that the food you eat can affect your mood.  After all, that is why the concept of “comfort food” exists!  Going through a rough breakup? Plowing into that pint of Ben & Jerry’s might make you feel better.  Had a rough day at the school?  Maybe a little visit from the dark chocolate fairy can help.  What many people may not realize is that our food choices can actually impact our mood too—that is, what we eat first, can change our mood later. Research soon to be published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology has demonstrated that positive moods can lead to healthier eating choices, whereas negative moods can lead to unhealthier (i.e., “comfort”) food choices. 

Part of this connection has to do with what time frame people keep in mind when in particular moods.  For example, being in a positive mood (such as feeling happy or grateful) has demonstrated more future-oriented and long-term thinking.  This in turn compels people to make mindful choices around what to eat. Participants in the study were more likely to select foods which would provide greater benefit down the line, due to being healthier and more nutritious.  On the other hand a negative mood (such as feeling anxious or sad) encouraged a preoccupation with shorter-term thinking and participants therefore sought out more indulgent foods, such as those high in fat and sugar, which might boost their mood in the short term.

It pays to keep in mind the circular relationship between mood and food.  While eating indulgent foods (such as that pint of Ben & Jerry’s!) may elevate one’s mood temporarily, they are more likely to have negative mood repercussions later due to the sugar crash, feelings of regret, or general lack of energy.  This could cause one’s mood to take another nosedive, which could once again lead to cravings for unhealthy foods.  On the other hand, while eating healthy food may not have the same level of immediate sensory satisfaction, it is more likely to lead to increased energy and feelings of well-being later, which can help sustain a positive mood state.

This connection between one’s state of mind and the foods they choose to eat has an important upshot: By doing something to influence your mood, you can also influence your eating habits and health!  Something as simple as spending a few minutes before each meal thinking about something that makes you happy, or engaging in a brief gratitude meditation, can have a large impact on how healthy you eat.  In fact, the researchers found that thinking about what makes you happy can lead to up to 77% healthier eating choices!

So the next time you’re trying to decide what to eat, or find yourself tempted by that last donut in the office kitchen, sit down and close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, find that happy place inside yourself and bask in that for a few minutes.  Afterwards you might be surprised how much easier it is to resist temptation!

I think I am going to take a bite of some quinoa and cranberry salad. YUMMO,

Dr. Stephanie