How Mood Affects Your Eating Habits
Have you ever noticed that when you are bored, sad, or anxious, you often feel hungry, too?
If you said “yes,” then rest assured that you are not in the minority. This is a widespread occurrence with both men and women, and you know what?
It’s not a coincidence.
In fact, there is a very close connection between appetite and mood.
How many times have you found yourself saying, “I don’t feel like eating XYZ tonight.”
Probably more than you can recall.
Here’s the thing: that’s not something we just say. It’s reflective of what is actually going on inside your brain. You literally feel like having something salty, sweet, savory, or so on because your mind tells you that’s what you want.
Our feelings are driven by our emotional state, and emotions are not just a mental thing. They are a legitimate biological response to external stimuli.
The scenario goes something like the following:
You have a bad day at work because your boss just gave you a large assignment with a tight deadline.
This external stimuli creates an emotional response such as anxiety.
The anxiety makes you feel a certain way and alters your mood.
As a result, you feel hungry – usually for a specific type of food (like ice cream).
But why hunger? What’s the connection?
There are two primary reasons our mood or emotional state impacts our eating habits.
First, when we encounter stress, our body’s most natural primitive response is to fight or flee.
As a result, various hormone levels fluctuate, causing the body to direct its energy storage towards cell function so it can be adequately prepared to handle the threat it faces. These hormones can trigger hunger.
Second, it just feels good.
While the first reason is a biological phenomenon we can’t do anything about, this second reason is something we can control or at least manage.
Regaining control begins with recognizing that our brain has a sophisticated rewards system.
This system is developed over time and primarily influenced by our experiences. This means that, during the course of our life, our brain builds a list of behaviors and substances (like food) that make it feel good. So, when it needs a little pick-me-up, our brain knows what it can “reward” itself with to make it feel better during times of emotional stress or pain.
Types of Hunger
The trick then is learning to differentiate between emotional hunger and physical hunger.
Physical hunger generally:
- comes on slowly;
- can be satisfied by any number of foods;
- will only last until you are full; and
- doesn’t make you feel guilty.
However, emotional hunger has these qualities:
- feels sudden and urgent;
- accompanies particular cravings (e.g., pizza or ice cream);
- may persist beyond a feeling of physical fullness; and
- usually results in feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment.
Tips to Fight Emotional Hunger
So what can you do when you experience emotional hunger?
If this is something you deal with often, getting to the root of your stress or other cause is very important – and not just because the food is not going to fix your problem. The food is just a bandaid. You need to address the actual problem.
However, for the short-term, these tips may help you get out of hot water when feeling the need to binge on sweets or junk food:
Keep a diary of your food.
Write down what you eat, how much you eat, and what your feelings are at the time. This will help you identify patterns and may help you understand what triggers you to eat for emotional reasons.
Ask yourself if you’re really hungry.
Using the lists above, determine if what you are experiencing is actual physical hunger or emotional hunger. If it’s legitimate hunger pangs, then eat appropriately – but if you are dealing with emotional hunger, try to find something else to do until those feelings subside. Consider an activity like running.
Take away temptation.
Don’t keep comfort foods in your home if they’re too difficult to resist. Throw out (or freeze) the leftovers that keep calling your name. Don’t go food shopping or hit your nearest drive-through until you have your feelings in check.
Get more sleep.
According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, being tired might cause you to snack for an energy boost. If that’s what’s driving your hunger, take a nap or go to bed instead of hitting the refrigerator or pantry.
While we can’t always run to the therapist every time we feel emotionally taxed, we can have a strategy to deal with mood-induced hunger episodes. If you are serious about weight loss or just maintaining a healthy weight, then be sure to create a plan and stick to it when you feel those food cravings coming on strong.
Start Your Weight Loss Journey Today
If you’re just getting started on your weight loss journey and you’re not sure where to begin, working with the professionals at Bee Healthy Clinics is a great place to start. We offer a wide variety of weight loss services and can help you tailor a weight loss plan that fits your specific needs.
Are you ready to start your weight loss journey? Give Bee Healthy Clinic a call and get started on the journey toward healthier living.