Comfort foods received the name for a reason; we tend to eat them to make us feel better. It’s no secret that our mood is a big factor when we are deciding what to eat. Many look for cookies and ice cream or any sweets when feeling sad or stressed, as well as going for lighter food when feeling happy or satisfied. Our mood affects what food we eat but the foods we eat affect our mood just as much! People often eat to relieve stress or anxiety without realizing it can actually result in greater fatigue, mood imbalance or even more stress.(?)
Personally, I tend to go for the lighter foods when I feel like I’m having a good day or once I’ve already made a healthier food choice earlier that day. Yes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day but what are you eating for breakfast?(?) Did you go for the eggs and fruit with a cup of tea or the donut with a vanilla latte this morning? Whatever it was, that will help determine what you will later chose as a snack (?), what you’ll have for lunch and probably dinner later tonight. Our food choices have a ripple effect so the decision between healthy and unhealthy, has a huge effect on the rest of our day (?).
Research has identified that the consumption of sugar and fat leads to a release of dopamine which is the “feel good” hormone, which may be why people go towards these foods to find comfort. These choices may be a short term stress reliever but sugar and fat can cause lower energy long term (?). I am sure many of you have all experienced a sugar crash or what we like to call a “food coma” after eating comfort foods. After choosing these foods throughout the day, you can end up with the same feelings of less comfort that you were trying to avoid in the first place.
There are some things that can help in controlling the amount of comfort foods you eat; you can start writing down and recording everything you’re eating and also record how eating that food makes you feel, such as did your mood change, did your energy change, and with that, it can help you bring awareness to yourself that these foods are actually making you feel one way or another.
The 3-Day Food Journal for Mood is a nutritional psychology tool designed to help identify which foods consumed lead to states of anxiety, depression, and fatigue (?). This tool can assit in managing these foods in your diet instead of thinking you need to avoiding those foods all together. If those comfort foods really are the only thing in mind when needing a pick me up and you just have to have it, you can always try making them yourself and altering the recipes to decrease the fat and sugar. A few examples: pasta can be replaced with whole-wheat pasta or you can even replace oil for unsweetened apple sauce in muffins and cakes.
Our moods and cravings can still guide us to what we eat but by paying attention and even making some modifications, we don’t have to let our food determine our mood .
Frayn, M., Sears, C., & Ranson, K. (2016). A sad mood increases attention to unhealthy food images in women with food addiction. Appetite, 100, 55–63. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2016.02.008
The Digestible; a site for easy to understand food, nutrition, health, and energy balance information.