Hunger is not the only factor that determines what, when and how much we eat. The best, nutritionally individualized and satiating diet will fail if other factors, such as the mood state, work against it. Many different factors drive our eating behavior. Three of the possible reasons why we eat too much without being hungry, choose the food that is bad for us although we know it better and do not adhere to our diet are explained below. Mood state1
What can be better than a delicious chocolate cake to fight bad mood. Chocolate is the solution for any problem, right?
Bad mood, anxiety and depression makes many people picking “comfort food” with a high fat and sugar content. Overeating is the obvious consequence. On the other hand, long-term consumption of a high-fat and sugar diet, as well as overeating, leads to depression and anxiety. A vicious cycle follows. Overeating, often observed in obesity, affects the brain in a similar manner as drug intake, impairing mechanisms that are involved in decision-making, self-control, stress- and mood regulation. This suggests that some people do not overindulge because they don’t want to be healthy, but because they are addicted to unhealthy food. Here the best advise would be: Do not even start consuming drugs!
Too many thing on the ‘to do list’, not enough time - job, family, daily duties… who doesn’t know this problem?
Here again, stress leads to calorie-rich food choices and stimulates hunger.1,2 Also, inadequate sleep has a negative influence on food intake by increasing appetite. Sleep depravation elevates the level of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin and decreases the production of the “satiety hormone” leptin.3 Guess what? I can foresee a ‘cookie-attack’, especially considering how difficult it is to have enough willpower to resist temptations when tired. Speaking of cookies, in a research study examining the importance of focusing on food during meals, subjects who were distracted during meals by other activities consumed significantly more cookies later the day than the subjects who focused on their meals. These findings suggest that we have something like food memory that controls our appetite. Eating during work, in front of a computer or watching TV impedes our meal memory and increases the probability that we a higher desire to snack later.4
Take away message? – De-stress, sleep enough and focus on your meals to reduce the changes of overeating on wrong foods.
You are consistent with your diet when you are at home and make poor food choices or overeat when you eat out? Have you ever wondered why occasions, such as parties, eating out with friends or having lunch at canteen at work challenge a healthy diet?
First of all, outside home there are more options, more dishes and more foods we want to try. A greater food variety leads to higher food consumption and is associated with weight gain. In contrast, limiting the available food is related to weight loss.5 The same applies for the weekly shopping, if you want to have some kind of “comfort food” at home, limit your selection. Don’t buy chips, chocolate, cookies, ice cream and Co. all at once, as the chances are higher that you will overeat.
Also, social environment dictates how much we eat. To facilitate social interactions and acquire social acceptance we tend to match our food intake to that of the people around us.6 Consequently, being surrounded by people who eat more than we do encourages us to eat more. In this case, probably the best thing is to increase the own self-esteem in order to decrease the need to affiliate with other people.
Factors that determine our eating behavior are very complex and interconnected. Mostly, there isn’t only one single factor that ruins our diet. Sometimes, it makes sense to look at other important factors, psycho-biological or social for instance, than the diet itself to find out why we don’t see the desired progress. Possible reasons and solution approaches are summarized in the image below.
- Singh, M. Mood, food, and obesity. Front. Psychol. 5, 1–20 (2014).
- Sominsky, L. & Spencer, S. J. Eating behavior and stress: A pathway to obesity. Front. Psychol. 5, 1–8 (2014).
- Somogyi, V. et al. Endocrine factors in the hypothalamic regulation of food intake in females: a review of the physiological roles and interactions of ghrelin, leptin, thyroid hormones, oestrogen and insulin. Nutr. Res. Rev. 24, 132–54 (2011).
- Higgs, S. & Donohoe, J. E. Focusing on food during lunch enhances lunch memory and decreases later snack intake. Appetite 57, 202–206 (2011).
- Raynor, H. A. Can limiting dietary variety assist with reducing energy intake and weight loss? Physiol Behav. 29, 997–1003 (2012).
- Robinson, E., Tobias, T., Shaw, L., Freeman, E. & Higgs, S. Social matching of food intake and the need for social acceptance. Appetite 56, 747–752 (2011).
- Young, S. N. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. 32, 394–399 (2007).