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Why is there such a complicated relationship between mood and food?

“A recent study found that a Mediterranean-style diet (a diet high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil) supplemented with fish oil led to a reduction in depression among participants, which was sustained six months after the intervention.” – The Mental Health Foundation, 2018

Mood and food have a complicated relationship...and it can at times get pretty dysfunctional too. Studies and research now show that eating certain (healthy) foods can have a beneficial impact on our mood and the state of our mental health. (With the unhealthy foods eg. super-sugary/ultra-processed foods - having a negative impact on our mental health). Yet when we are feeling low or sad we are much more likely to reach for those super-sugary/unhealthy foods as a coping mechanism to make ourselves feel better... which in turn can make our mood even worse! Like a toxic romantic relationship where you know you’re bad for each other - but you just can’t seem to leave each other - low mood and unhealthy food are a pretty destructive pair.

It is for this reason that treating any issue around over-eating requires the capability to address the mental health issues or thinking patterns that may be triggering the use of food as a coping mechanism. “Results from a 2010 systematic review found two-way associations between depression and obesity, finding that people who were obese had a 55% increased risk of developing depression over time, whereas people experiencing depression had a 58% increased risk of becoming obese.” – The Mental Health Foundation, 2018. It is for this reason that you cannot treat obesity or over-eating with just a diet plan or nutritional recommendations - you also have to treat the depression, anxiety, perfectionism, low self-esteem, low mood and other emotional/cognitive factors that may drive someone to make poor food choices regularly.

Most people know exactly what they SHOULD be doing when it comes to nutrition and their diet. The gap is not in their knowledge. The gap is in understanding how they can bring about sustainable changes to their behaviours. The gap is in addressing the underlying psychological factors that are fuelling their food choices.

Fung (2016) comments that “The standard prescription for weight loss is “Eat Less. Move More”. It sounds perfectly reasonable. But why doesn’t it work?” - It doesn’t work because we don’t care about how many calories are in our food when we are stressed/tired/sad/lonely - in that moment we just want something to make us feel better ...and food does that for us. Whilst a diet or meal plan can’t help you to feel better, it can’t improve your mood or boost your self-esteem - at The Food Psychology Clinic we can help you to work at all of these things - so that you feel so good and you no longer regularly need to find comfort in food. Contact to find out more or to book in for a 20 minute free consultation.

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