Emotional eating is something we're all familiar with. Happy or sad, up or down, there's a plethora of media in the world that tells us our moods often dictate the foods we choose to eat.
A study by University of Delaware associate professor Meryl Gardner finds that there's more to stress eating than simply emotion and in fact, thinking about the future may help people make better food choices.
Gardner tried to find out why when someone is in a bad mood will they choose to eat junk food and why when someone is in a good mood will they make healthier food choices?
"In an evolutionary sense, it makes sense that when we feel uncomfortable or are in a bad mood, we know something is wrong and focus on what is close to us physically and what is close in time, in the here and now," said Gardner.
The researchers conducted four laboratory experiments to examine whether people in a positive mood would prefer healthy food to indulgent food for long-term health and well-being benefits and those in a negative mood would prefer indulgent foods to healthy foods for immediate, hedonistic mood management benefits.
The findings of all the studies combined contribute to current research by demonstrating that individuals can select healthy or indulgent foods depending on their moods, an area previously under-represented in past clinical research on the role of healthy foods.
The findings also indicate the integral aspect of the time horizon, showing that 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 the immediate taste and sensory experience.