How Food Affects Your Mood

In the 1600s, René Descartes wanted to dissect cadavers for his scientific studies. At the time, human dissection was not allowed because the prevailing religion of the time believed that damaging the body would also damage the soul. Descartes used science, philosophy, and religion to change this belief and gained access to cadavers. His ideas eventually led people to the philosophy of Mind-Body Dualism, which says that emotional, mental, and physical health (mind-body) are completely separate (dualism). 

Today, we know that our emotional, mental, and physical health are inseparable. This blog series will explore the ways our emotional, mental, and physical health are connected, and how we can use this to our advantage as we strive for better health.

Food affects the way we feel. We know that. We’ve all experienced food comas after Thanksgiving, or “highs” after sugary foods. But how does the quality of the food we eat affect our emotions? What if we eat fast food? What if we eat vegetables? 

Penn State University recently conducted a study involving 44 college students who ate meals heavy in calories, sodium, and saturated fat, and they reported more negative moods two days later. Additional research also shows that after people eat typical fast food, like greasy burgers and fries, they feel more depressed. Other foods did the same, including doughnuts, muffins, croissants, and other commercially baked foods. 

On the positive side, research also shows that after people eat a healthy, Mediterranean-style meal, like fish, vegetables and fruit, they have more energy.

While researching for this blog, we learned a surprising fact: personality can affect what you eat. To quote an article by Dr. Deanna Minich,an internationally-recognized teacher, author, scientist, speaker, and artist:

“An interesting publication in the journal Appetite brought to light many findings about one’s personality and eating: (1) Individuals who are open minded to new experiences consumed more fruit, vegetables and salad, and less meat and soft drinks; (2) Those who consider themselves easygoing and agreeable tended to eat less meat; (3) Conscientious people were more likely to consume greater amounts of fruit, and less meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened soft drinks. (4) People with neurotic tendencies were more prone to consuming sweet and savory foods.

“This food-mood connection likely comes from the effects of certain nutrients and foods on neurotransmitters, including consuming the neurotransmitters themselves. There are also important precursors to neurotransmitters you must ensure you have in sufficient amounts for a healthy brain and communication throughout your body.”

There are many ways that food affects how we feel:

  • Fast food increases our risk for depression
  • Just two days of eating unhealthy meals can give us more negative moods
  • Boredom and poor emotional coping skills can cause us to eat even if we’re not hungry
  • Personality can affect what we eat
  • Being in a good mood can make us overeat
  • How we feel emotionally can alter the way food tastes to us
  • Nutritious foods help us improve our emotional health
  • Good sleep can help us avoid binge eating and depression

How can you use this knowledge to change your life?

Notice your mood, and notice what you’re eating. Avoid processed foods in favor of fruits, vegetables, a variety of nuts, wild-caught fish, and lean meats. 

Eat only if you’re hungry. Notice if you’re bored, and don’t to eat out of boredom. Instead, spend time doing things you love with people you care about.

Be aware of how your personality affects your eating habits. If you’re a stress eater, do some breathing exercises throughout the day to stay relaxed.

Notice your emotions. If you tend to use good things and a good mood as a reason to celebrate with food, or if you use bad days as an excuse to binge eat, notice your extremes and try to avoid overeating.

Eat like you’re Mediterranean. Mediterranean-style foods, rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, fish, and legumes can help to protect us against depression and negative moods. This applies to meals and snacks!

Sleep well. When we’re exhausted, we tend to eat sugar and caffeine. As much as you can, have a healthy sleep routine to improve your health, emotions, and eating habits. 

Learn more about how food affects your mood!


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