How Mood Affects Eating Habits

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How Mood Affects Eating Habits
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How Mood Affects Eating Habits

Read on to learn how mood affects what we eat.

University of Delaware associate professor, Meryl Gardner, wanted to explore the science behind stress eating.

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"We were interested in the 'why,'” Gardener explained in a statement. “Why when someone is in a bad mood will they choose to eat junk food and why when someone is in a good mood will they make healthier food choices.”

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Gardener and her colleagues conducted four experiments to determine whether people in good moods would prefer healthy food over junk food for the long term benefits and conversely whether individuals in bad moods would want indulgent food over nutritious food for instant satisfaction.

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To get their participants "in the mood," Gardener and her colleagues had the subjects read either positive articles about someone with a happy life who had achieved a lot or negative content about someone with a sad life who had not met his goals.

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The results of the first study found that subjects in a good mood preferred healthier foods over the subjects in a neutral mood, who were more inclined to like enjoy unhealthy foods.

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Gardner explains that people in a good mood might choose healthier foods “...possibly because they put more weight on abstract, higher-level benefits like health and future well-being."

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By studying 315 undergraduate participants, the researchers found that subjects in bad moods preferred junk food over healthy foods.

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Gardener and her team then conducted a third study to prove that the findings were not due to differences in goals after having their moods influenced by the assigned reading material. They then found that mood affected the consumption of food.

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Gardener believes that people in good moods will be more focused on long-term health and like the idea of staying healthy.

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The researchers believe that their findings support the notion that focusing on the future can help to decrease the consumption of bad foods.

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Gardener offers this advice based on the findings. "If people in a bad mood typically choose to eat foods that have an immediate, indulgent reward, it might be more effective to encourage what we call mood repair motivation, or calling their attention to more innocuous ways to enhance their mood. Instead of looking at nutrition and warning labels, try talking to friends or listening to music.”

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Ever have a really stressful day and grab the bag of chips instead of carrots?

As it turns out, mood does affect the choices we make, especially when it comes to what we eat. People tend to opt for healthier food when they're happy and junk food when they're in a bad mood -- but why?

Check out the slideshow above to learn more about how mood affects eating habits.

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