How our feelings affect what we eat
Ever reached for a tub of ice cream or a big slice of chocolate cake when you’re feeling down? Then it’ll come as no surprise that our feelings affect the way we choose to eat – here we look at the science behind it.
Many of us have witnessed the stereotypical scene in cheesy romcom flicks – boy breaks up with girl, girl cries, girl’s best friend arrives with ice cream and two spoons. New research suggests that there is science behind this, revealing that mildly depressed people are more sensitive to sweet foods and cannot tell the difference between high and low-fat foods.
These findings have shed new light onto the increasingly complex relationship between food and feelings, serving as a reminder that food is simply never just about fuelling our bodies. In fact, the way we feel about food involves complicated psychological and biological factors that even scientists are yet to understand.
The study in question is the first of its kind to test both the effects of affect (a state such as tension or relaxation) and mood (a state that may or may not have a specific cause – for example feeling irritable after an argument) on our sensitivity to certain tastes.
The research was led by Petra Platte of the University of Wurzburg in Germany and involved 80 men and women. Participants were asked to fill out various surveys to measure depression and anxiety as well as answer questions regarding their bodies and lifestyles.
After filling in the appropriate paperwork, the 80 men and women were asked to watch three different movie clips; one of a sad scene involving a boy watching his father die, one of a happy scene where a man reunites with his partner and a neutral scene involving a documentary about copper. After each viewing, the participants were asked to drink a selection of liquids and were asked to report what they tasted like.
The study found that those who scored higher on measures of depression and anxiety (but did not have a clinical disorder) became more sensitive to sweet and bitter tastes after watching the sad and happy clips but could not tell the difference between high and low-fat liquids.
A range of other studies have been carried out in the past (some of which contradicts this new research) and while no one seems to be in agreement as to how our moods affect our tastes exactly – it is clear that there is a physiological factor at play.
Knowing what we do know about mood and eating should give us the power to take control of what we eat instead of falling prey to biological desires. If you want to know more about making healthy choices, speaking to a nutritionist could help. For more information, please see our Healthy Eating page.
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