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  • Lesley Atkins

Guest Post: The Food Mood and Emotional Eating


Ever find yourself just shoving food in your mouth and wondering, “why am I doing this, I’m not even hungry?!” Well, me too. I have found that there are similar moods that people “feed” and thought that shedding light on those moods could help others with their food mood journey.


Food and the mood have a more inverse relationship than people are often aware of. The food we eat has both a behavioral effect and also physical effects. The term HANGRY is one that many like to joke about, but reality is that HANGRY is a real thing!!! When your blood sugar drops from not having adequate nutrition, researchers have found that the effects are similar to the sluggish, stressed, poor mood also seen in depression. (Link between Hunger and Mood Explained, 2018)


The CRAVING mood

Chocolate is my “craving” food. After a meal, when I am sad, tired, any time of the day, searching for a bite of chocolate can turn me into a bear. At that moment, chocolate is in control of me. If someone asks me a question and my mind is on chocolate, I may snap at them. Sometimes when I deny myself any chocolate, I find myself eating other sweet things that increase my calorie intake and actually cause more harm than good. Researchers linked “food craving to be a risk factor for binging food, which in turn might cause weight gain and obesity.” (The Effect of Hunger and Satiety on Mood-Related Food Craving, 2020) Finding healthy outlets in conjunction for your cravings can help. For me, it is a teaspoon of dark chocolate chips in some low fat yogurt vs a huge bowl of chocolate ice cream. Limit yourself on cravings, don't try to eliminate your favorite foods altogether.


The ANXIOUS mood

Many times when a person goes into an anxious eating, it is out of their awareness that they are putting things in their mouth. An abundance of nervous energy fills the person, and auto pilot eating begins. Like many other mood eating habits, it is less about what is being eaten, and more about the mood of an individual that drives the desire to eat. Finding the underlying issue for what is causing worry thoughts, can reduce this type of mood eating response. Things to look for are “What if” and “Shoulda, coulda, woulda” thoughts that keep you in full on worry mode. When you notice your mind playing these tricks, go to “What is” mode, and stick strictly to facts. Slow the mind, slow the food urge.


The BORED mood

This one may seem obvious, but oftentimes goes unnoticed. Traveling in the car is a time when many struggle with this mood related to eating. I get it. Trips can get long, and finding a way to pass the time can make things seem to go faster. Things that I have found to help are distraction based interventions. Look back through old tunes to belt out, call a friend you haven’t spoken with for a long time, or play a game of “I spy” with the kids. But let’s be realistic, you will need to eat. Being prepared with healthy alternatives to eating and drinking can help with this. If you have items with you packed, you can stop at a rest area vs going into a convenience store with fresh made pizza, pop, chips, and other preservative packed snacks.


The DEPRESSED mood

Much like the anxious mood, the emotions are driving the urge to eat and feel “better” in the moment. During these “feel good” binge sessions, the person is trying to find some relief from the sad, hopeless or helpless mood that is being experienced. Around 7 percent of the population lives with depression, and is found in individuals of all ages, and all genders. If the issue is ongoing for more than a couple of weeks with no relief from the sadness, irritability, hopeless, helpless thoughts, reaching out to a Licensed Therapist to find support for dealing with ongoing depression can help.


GUILT AND SHAME from what we eat

So many emotions can follow unhealthy eating. Some of the more common are guilt and shame. It is important to be aware of what emotion that you are experiencing before choosing when or what to eat, but also what is happening AFTER. Looking at the situation for what it is and taking away harsh judgements on ourselves for a “slip” can slow the mean things we tell ourselves. One slip does not need to turn into a whole day of bad eating decisions.


MINDFUL eating and COPING

Slowing down to enjoy the food we eat can help. Food is very important because it supports healthful living, energy, and can be a time to bring families together. Taking time to taste our food can be beneficial to this process. It is almost as if the food needs time to be respected. Chewing, tasting, experiencing the textures can help promote more mindful and positive eating. It also helps the body to feel full and satisfied as you are experiencing the moment while listening to what your body has to say. EVERYONE needs food to live. Food should be respected, and you should also work to respect yourself to find a better understanding about what YOUR mood for food is :)


Lesley Atkins - MSW, CSW, QMHP has been a Therapist at Rising Hope Counseling since May of 2020. She got her undergraduate degree in Behavioral Science from Bellevue University and her Master of Social Work from the University of North Dakota. She specializes in work with children, families, couples, and trauma survivors. Lesley is passionate about education and mental health support being normalized within her community and promoting a life best lived for all.

Rising Hope 605 is an organization that provides both private and non-profit support for 11 communities in South Dakota. Their mission is to "Provide Hope, Healing, and Change" for all that come to their practice.




“Link between Hunger and Mood Explained.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 25 Sept. 2018, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180925115218.htm.
Reents, Janina, et al. “The Effect of Hunger and Satiety on Mood-Related Food Craving.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 28 Sept. 2020, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.568908/full.

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