Study Uncovers New Insight Into Emotional Eating

By Rebecca Jones

If your last break up left you ten pounds heavier from all those late night rocky road therapy sessions you know all about the comfort derived from emotional eating. While eating for comfort affects nearly everyone, until now researchers have been unable to determine why we crave fatty and sugary foods when we are upset and why these foods affect our emotions.

The Study

In a recent study researchers believe that they have discovered hormones in the human stomach that interact directly with our brain. This indicates that although there are aspects of pleasure and nostalgia involved with comfort food our bodies crave them on a biological level as well. In the study, 12 normal weight participants were administered either a fat solution or a saline solution though unmarked stomach tubes. Even without the taste, smells or textures people who consumed the fat solution were in much better moods than those that received the saline solution. All participants were shown pictures of unhappy faces and made to listen to sad music; those who had received the fat solution remained more upbeat throughout than those who had consumed the saline solution. This is the first study to discover the effect of food on mood without being influenced by pleasure or memory and while they still do not understand the process exactly, it does give the first real inclination that we are biologically rewarded for making what are often times poor food choices.

What this Means for Our Diet

Throughout most of human history food has been relatively scarce and it’s been necessary to load up on fat and calories whenever they became available, because of this our bodies have evolved to make consuming food as rewarding as possible. Unfortunately in today’s environment of super sized portions and fast food restaurants what used to help us survive could now be contributing to poor nutrition, obesity and eating disorders. Most of us live a very stressful lifestyle and it can be difficult not to turn to junk food as a coping mechanism.

What’s Next

Researchers are hoping to take what they have learned so far about the biological connection between food and mood and apply it to understanding if those who are obese respond to food the same way as the original normal weight volunteers. They would like to test the hypothesis that obese people require more of these comfort hormones or are more resistant to them than those that are a normal weight.

It’s Not All Bad

While emotional eating can lead to big problems and low self esteem there is comfort in knowing that sometimes a little chocolate can go a long way. Nature has provided us with a way to relieve anxiety and comfort ourselves; when used in moderation it can be a great thing to have in our arsenal. Here are a few tips for feeding your emotions without losing your waist line.

  • Figure out what it is you are really craving. If you can identify it you are less likely to go through the entire contents of your fridge looking for something that will soothe.
  • Enjoy the moment, if you are eating just to feel better than drop everything else you are doing and really savor the experience. By being mindful of what you are eating you are less likely to overdo it.
  • Save your treats until after a healthy meal. If you have already filled up on healthy carbs and protein you are far less likely to binge on fatty foods and sweets.
  • Don’t feel guilty. If you are eating to cheer yourself up nothing will sabotage you faster than feeling guilty for allowing yourself to indulge. The worse you feel the more likely you are to keep going back for more.

Most importantly enjoy the moment, if you are eating just to feel better than drop everything else you are doing and really savor the experience. By being mindful of what you are eating you are less likely to overdo it and more likely to feel the mood boosting effects.