Everybody wants to eat healthier. It seems though that there are days when that is easier said than done. It’s not that healthy food isn’t readily available. You may even have your salad box all ready in the refrigerator. But, after a particularly hard day at work, school or home, you may get to the table and realize that emotionally, you just want comfort food.
Some comfort food can be healthy, but in most cases, that’s not what you’re after.
University of Delaware (UD) associate professor Meryl Gardner finds that there’s more to stress eating than simply emotion and in fact, thinking about the future may help people make better food choices.
“We were interested in the ‘why,’” said Gardner. “Why, when someone is in a bad mood will they choose to eat junk food and why, when someone is in a good mood will they make healthier food choices?”
Gardner, a faculty member in UD’s Lerner College of Business and Economics, with co-authors Brian Wansink of Cornell University, Junyong Kim of Hanyang University ERICA and Se-Bum Park of Yonsei University, found that a lot depends on our perspective of time.
“It makes sense that when we feel uncomfortable or are in a bad mood, we know something is wrong and focus on what is close to us physically and what is close in time, in the here and now,” said Gardner. “We’re seeing the trees and not the forest.”
Have you ever reached for the food that you know will comfort you with no regard to how you will feel tomorrow? I have! Whether it is a cookie, a slice of whole wheat bread or a piece of chocolate, I only have eyes for it and have no interest in remembering that it will cause me a hot flash, runny nose or even a headache later!
Researchers conducted four laboratory experiments to examine whether people in a positive mood would prefer healthy food to indulgent food for long-term health and well-being benefits. Or, would those in a negative mood prefer indulgent foods to healthy foods for immediate mood management benefits.
Ultimately, the findings of all the studies combined contribute to current research by demonstrating that individuals may select healthy or indulgent foods depending on their moods. The findings also indicate that individuals in positive moods who make healthier food choices are often thinking more about future health benefits than those in negative moods, who focus more on the immediate taste and sensory experience.
“If people in a bad mood typically choose to eat foods that have an immediate, indulgent reward, it might be more effective to encourage what we call mood repair motivation, or calling their attention to more innocuous ways to enhance their mood,” said Gardner.
So the next time you go to grab a snack, think about your mood and if necessary, listen to a great song or call a friend to talk before you actually eat anything that you may regret tomorrow. Also, be prepared by having healthy snacks readily available like dates and coconut oil (Paul’s favorite) or a Survival Bar (Rev. Malkmus’ choice).