Happy Thoughts and Healthy Eating

A series of fascinating studies by Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab (run by Dr. Wansink) were designed to explain the mechanisms by which negative and positive moods influence your food choices.

Researchers found that individuals select healthy or "indulgent" foods depending on whether they're in a good or a bad mood, respectively. They discovered that if you think about what you're grateful for, you'll eat up to 77 percent healthier.

Why would this be?

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 immediate taste and sensory experience. Researchers wrote:

"When people are in a good mood, things seem okay and they can take a big picture perspective. This kind of thinking allows people to focus on the more abstract aspects of food, including how healthy it is....

Conceptually, when people feel uncomfortable or are in a bad mood, they know something is wrong and focus on what is close in the here and now.

We hypothesized and demonstrated that this kind of thinking gets us to focus on the sensory qualities of our foods – not things that are more abstract like how nutritious the food is."

The research team suggests that if you're in a bad mood and you want to reduce your temptation to overeat, or not eat the wrong thing, try focusing on something other than the present. If you want to change your eating, change your thoughts—think of something you're grateful for.

Comfort Foods May Not Be So Comforting After All

The healing power of comfort food may be overrated. Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that indulging in comfort food has little effect on how quickly you recover from a bad mood.

The study was funded by NASA in hopes of finding a way to improve the mood of astronauts on space missions. Astronauts tend to lose weight in space, where work demands are high and the food is generally bleak and uninspiring.

Individuals who didn't soothe themselves with food found their moods bouncing back just as quickly as those who indulged in "comfort food." Even when comfort food helped with mood, the effects were short-lived.

In a previous study, Dr. Wansink's research team found that, contrary to popular belief, people tend to eat "comfort foods" as a reward, rather than in response to sadness or stress.

About 86 percent of those surveyed reported seeking out comfort foods when they were in a happy mood, as opposed to 36 percent reporting eating comfort foods when feeling down.

Tips and Strategies to Prevent Overeating

1- Being mindful of your eating is important, but sometimes mindfulness alone isn't enough. Many human behaviors are driven by unconscious emotions, and eating patterns are no exception. 

2- Smaller Plates Equal Smaller Portions

Although calorie counting is not an effective approach to weight loss, portion control can be important, particularly if you are inactive or have a sluggish metabolism. Westerners typically consume much larger portions than they need. One way to control portions with minimal effort is by using smaller plates. This seems to work by way of an optical illusion—food portions appear larger on a smaller plate, which tricks your brain into serving and eating smaller portions.

3- Slow Down Your Eating by Chewing Thoroughly

When it comes to eating, you might want to put on the brakes a bit. A recent study shows that eating more slowly can decrease your food consumption and prevent overeating. When you eat too quickly, your body doesn't have time to go through its natural appetite signaling process or proper digestion.

4- Vigorous Exercise Suppress Your Appetite

A common assumption about exercise is that it will cause you to eat more, but science now suggests the opposite may be true. Studies shows that exercise, particularly 45 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise in the morning, seems to reduce food cravings both immediately and throughout the day, leading to suppression of appetite and decreased food intake—even lingering into the next day.

Happy thoughts = Happy Body, Mind and Soul!