Consciously or unconsciously, people often turn to food to ease stress and/or improve mood.
New research suggests this behavior may be counterproductive as researchers discover mood may actually worsen after unhealthy eating choices for women who are concerned about their diet and self-image.
Penn State researchers studied college-age women who were concerned about their eating behaviors and discovered that moods worsened after bouts of disordered eating.
“There was little in the way of mood changes right before the unhealthy eating behaviors,” said Kristin Heron, Ph.D., research associate at the Survey Research Center at Penn State University. “However, negative mood was significantly higher after these behaviors.”
According to Heron, people who experience disordered eating patterns may exhibit behaviors such as binge eating, loss of control over eating and food intake restriction.
While negative mood was worse after disordered eating, a positive mood did not change either before or after any of the behaviors studied by the researchers.
The researchers gathered data from participants in real-life situations. The team gave handheld computers to 131 women who had high levels of unhealthy eating habits and concerns about their body shape and weight, but did not have eating disorders.
Several times during the day, the devices would prompt the participants to answer questions about their mood and eating behaviors.
“What we know about mood and eating behaviors comes primarily from studies with eating disorder patients or from laboratory studies,” said Heron.
“We were interested in studying women in their everyday lives to see whether mood changed before or after they engaged in unhealthy eating and weight control behaviors.”
Smyth said that the study could lead to better treatments for women experiencing eating problems.
“This study is unique because it evaluates moods and eating behaviors as they occur in people’s daily lives, which can provide a more accurate picture of the relationship between emotions and eating,” said co-author Joshua Smyth, professor of biobehavioral health.
“The results from this study can help us to better understand the role mood may play in the development and maintenance of unhealthy eating, and weight-control behaviors, which could be useful for creating more effective treatment programs for people with eating and weight concerns.”
Source: Penn State