Feed Your Body, Not Your Mood

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Do you ever eat because you’re bored? Mad? Angry? Happy? This is what we call emotional eating, or you may have heard of “eating your feelings.” When it comes to making healthier food choices, emotions play a large role in what we put into our mouths.

Kansas State Research and Extension developed a program focused on emotional eating. Different from physical hunger, emotional eating is when we use food to feed an emotion such as stress, loneliness, anxiety, or anger. These moods are affected by chemicals in the brain, the same chemicals that affect the foods we are craving. For example, eating protein sources such as meats, nuts, beans, and seeds releases the chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. High levels of these chemicals increase alertness, concentration, and stress management while low levels cause depressed feelings, irritability, and moodiness. When stressed, the chemicals galanin and neuropeptide Y are released, developing a desire for fatty foods and carbohydrates (such as chocolate).

It’s important before eating to identify if you are physically hungry or emotionally hungry. Here is a simple chart used by Kansas State University to identify which hunger you are facing:

Emotional Physical
Sudden onset Gradual onset
Eats to feed a feeling Eats to feed an empty stomach
Craves specific foods No specific cravings
Eats despite fullness Stops when full or satisfied

I challenge you to think about your emotions and what foods you turn to. Deciphering between emotional and physical hunger may help you make healthier choices and keep you on track with your nutrition goals. If you’re feeling emotional hunger, try:

  • Exercising (endorphins released will help to improve your mood)
  • Call a friend (I am just a phone call away!)
  • Drink water (hunger pangs can develop when dehydrated)
  • Brush your teeth (the minty taste can help replenish a sweet craving)

Try not to let your emotions take control. And remember, if you have an irritable co-worker, spouse, or child… just give them some protein.

Source: Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service – Emotional Appetite: The Food and Mood Connection