Mood and Food

It’s impossible to turn on the television, open a newspaper or look at the Internet without being bombarded with messages about how to eat healthier.

Anyone who has tried to change their own eating habits, or tried to help someone else change their behaviour with food, knows this can be difficult. We all have our own relationship with food. Why, when and with whom we eat differs from one person to the next.

Our mood can affect our food intake in many ways. We may:

  • eat more
  • eat less
  • have desires or cravings for certain foods
  • be “turned off” certain foods.

We know that certain foods and eating at certain times can:

  • comfort us
  • help us feel more celebratory
  • improve our sense of well-being.

What are some of the factors affecting the intersection of mood and food?

Sometimes it’s psychological; for example, when loneliness improves after eating banana pancakes — because banana pancakes were what your mother made every Sunday morning for you to eat together.

Sometimes it’s biological; for example, when you include protein such as cottage cheese, eggs or nuts in your diet, you may find you are able to move and think more quickly because of the increase in the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Or carbohydrates such as mashed potatoes may make you feel content from the increase of serotonin release.

Self-reflection WILL help change eating behaviour through learning patterns, habits, beliefs and preferences. Just as mood (whether we are happy, sad, angry and everything in between) can affect what and how much we eat, healthy and not-so healthy choices we make about food can affect our mood.

What should we eat?

Eating a diet rich in zinc, magnesium, B vitamins and omega-3 fats can improve cognition and mood. Try to include foods such as salmon, dark leafy greens, shellfish, whole grains, lean meats, legumes, eggs, soy beans, dried fruits, nuts, seeds and colourful fruit and vegetables in your diet.

Tips to help you make positive changes

Before you can make any long-lasting changes, it is necessary to understand your own individual relationship with food. Understanding can help you change your behaviour. Below are some practical tips on how to identify and support your relationship with food and mood so you can make meaningful, successful changes in your eating habits.

  1. Identify if you have any food triggers by keeping a journal. A journal can help identify patterns in behaviour. For example: “I eat more every time I … call my mother/ex-husband, am stressed from work, have to pay bills...”
  2. Determine if you eat to feel better. Are you a comfort food eater? PLAN alternative comfort foods; for example, eat hot air popcorn instead of mashed potatoes.
  3. STOP before you eat. Ask yourself: Are you hungry? RATE YOUR HUNGER. Use a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 = ravenous and 5 = full. Try not to eat if you are a 4 or 5.
  4. Stock your kitchen with healthy food. You can’t eat what you don’t have. Speak to a registered dietitian if you need help.
  5. Plan alternative behaviours. Are you a late-night eater? Try having a bubble bath, phoning a friend or reading a book instead.
  6. Reward yourself ™ just not with food. It is better to give yourself more frequent small rewards for smaller goals than one big reward for a long, difficult struggle.