(WellnessNova.com) - You ever notice how eating a certain type of food makes you feel a certain way? Think of foods you know are not healthy, but love to eat. The term “guilty pleasure” itself indicates an emotional enjoyment from eating.
You may know a friend who eats a tub of ice cream when he or she is feeling less than great, because it helps cheer them up. Aside from emotionally eating, there are studies that show different food groups cause different emotions. This makes choosing the food you eat worth extra consideration.
Authors John Edwards, Hartwell, and Brown of the Foodservice and Applied Nutrition Research Group, in the article, “The Relationship Between Emotions, Food Consumption and Meal Acceptability When Eating Out of the Home,” state that eating out usually produces positive emotions.
When you think about it, it makes sense that eating out makes you feel better. You are satisfying a grumbling stomach with a full flavored meal, and there is a festive atmosphere when eating out. Under normal circumstances (food is well cooked, service is good etc.), it feels nice to eat a plate of hot food.
1. Different Foods, Different Emotions
Every meal has a range of potential feelings it causes, depending on what kind of food you are eating. In addition to preexisting notions about food, there are chemical and psychological correlations between emotions and eating.
The Public Library of Science published an article titled,”Models of Individual Dietary Behavior Based on Smartphone Data: The Influence of Routine, Physical Activity, Emotion and Food Environment.” The study examined the range of stress levels people felt when eating different types of food such as meat, dairy, and vegetables.
The study concluded that habitually eating unhealthy foods, resulted in more negative emotions. Jenna Hua of U.C. Berkeley, who contributed to the piece, reported that those who ate healthy foods, had a positive mood. This is a result of chemical reactions, caused by both healthy and unhealthy foods.
2. Chemical Reactions
You’ve seen it on sitcoms, and probably heard it from your own parents, but “eat your vegetables” is said to children a lot. As an adult, many may eat junk food in excess, as a way of rebelling, while others feel a sense of self-congratulations after eating a healthy salad.
Aside from these associations, eating junk food can produce a short term feeling of excitement. Studies have shown rational thinking can be short-circuited by the impulse to satisfy taste buds.
The International Journal of Food Sciences & Nutrition’s article, “The Relationship Between Emotions and Food Consumption…” took a closer look at this by video taping their test subjects eating, and measuring their heart rates.
The Journal used pizza as the food tested for an emotional correlation. It concluded that a high fat or high protein meal leads to feelings of contentment. There is science behind these findings, to back up this assertion.
Have you ever met someone that loves to get tattoos? Many times, people become hooked on the endorphins the body releases when getting a tattoo. Nutrients in food can trigger amino acids. As a result, this increases or decreases the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and epinephrine that regulate your emotions.
You may feel especially happy or relaxed after a high fat or high energy meal. This is because the feeling of being full is more complete with a high carb meal, than with a low carb meal. A dinner that is protein rich can produce positive emotions.
What happens when you eat just to eat, and not because you’re hungry? This may be a result of misreading the body’s signals with the mind’s appetite, to just please the taste buds. Life long habits of doing this can lead to obesity.
3. Obesity And Emotional Eating
As far is binge-eating is concerned, many people who are stressed out find relief by eating unhealthy foods. It can be a way to forget about the stresses of daily life. This is where the emotions before and after eating are even more intertwined.
When examining psychosomatic behavior, the US National Library of Medicine states that overeating can minimize anxiety. This is a result of cognitive dissonance. Some may mix up psychological urges, with physiological signals of hunger. Those who have healthy eating habits can eat more or less food, based on mood, whereas others will eat regardless of their mood.
What this means is, as people go through life, they pick up habits along the way, without realizing it. These habits become so ingrained that many forget they still have the option to eat healthier. It just becomes something you do, instead of a choice you decide.
Eating emotionally isn’t only defined as overeating, it can also mean some seek comfort in eating unhealthy foods. Just as your parents told you to eat your vegetables, there are other associations people make based on childhood experiences.
Many eating preferences can start in someone’s childhood according to Core Physicians, of New Hampshire’s Exeter Hospital. Although there’s a physical side to it, there are other reasons why junk food can become comfort food.
Holidays like Halloween are all about candy, and tie in to memories of trick or treating with friends and family. Birthday parties where you blew out candles and made wishes are a fond association with cake. Perhaps your mom gave you a cinnamon roll or empanada after a hard day at school, so that particular pastry is special to you.
Childhood experiences connect food to emotions and still help govern adult decision-making skills. These are a few reasons why many may find comfort in cake and candy. But there are other reasons why you may like sweet things like chocolate.
4. Chocolate and Serotonin
As mentioned before, serotonin is a significant factor in regulating someone’s mood, and it comes from tryptophan, an amino acid that synthesizes proteins.
This amino acid is naturally occurring in several types of food, including:
The Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science extensively researched the correlation between food and emotions, specifically, in reference to proteins, carbs, and chocolate.
Chocolate can be very addictive and for a good reason; it tastes great, and has many potentially psychoactive chemicals which alter your mood, including:
These affect your brain the same way cannabis, caffeine and amphetamines do, which explains why so many people like chocolate. However, you can still eat good and feel good.
5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There are many healthy foods that contain nutrients that are related to regulating your mood. Some are more important than you’d think when it comes to being stable and functional in society. Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids are really important to include in your diet.
According to a study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, many behavior imbalances are linked to a lack of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood stream.
- Substance Abuse
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
- Decreased Impulse Control
As fast food has become increasingly more pervasive in the urban landscape, as well as wheat consumption, this has had an effect on the body’s ability to absorb and process omega-3s. Baked goods, wholegrain bread, and nonessential oils have omega-6 fatty acids, which supersede omega-3 fatty acids when combined together.
This relates to moods caused by foods, because omega-3s help add to the fluidity of the cell membrane, which contributes to a healthy brain’s development.
6. Eat Good, Feel Good
Despite the elevated mood you may feel eating a high carb meal like a hot pizza, there are still good reasons to eat healthy. Dartmouth mentions that folic acid, found in leafy green vegetables is a natural antidepressant. Although a folic acid deficiency isn’t as common, you may want to eat foods high in folic acid, such as:
- Liver Meat
A more frequent nutritional concern is a lack of iron in the average person’s diet. Lack of iron can contribute to ADD, depression, and lethargy, especially in children. You can replenish your iron by eating these foods:
- Dried Fruit
- Leafy Green Vegetables
The next time you go grocery shopping, be sure to include items that have folic acid and iron, as well as a lot of protein, with a medium amount of carbs, and a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
It is unrealistic to think that anyone can always eat perfectly, but knowing the connection between food and moods will give you a step up when making your meal choices.