Skip to Content

Unhealthy eating can worsen a bad mood, study says


Women who are already concerned about their eating habits could make a bad mood worse by engaging in the very behavior they're trying to control, a new study says.

Researchers from Penn State found that college-age women who did not have eating disorders — but who were prone to concerns about their diet and self-image — had negative feelings significantly worsen after a bout of disordered eating.

The study

Researchers gave handheld computers to 131 women who had high levels of unhealthy eating habits and concerns about their weight. At several intervals during the day, the devices prompted the women to answer questions about their moods and their eating habits.

Results found that the women's moods didn't change before a bout of disordered eating, and positive moods also didn't change for better or for worse in response to a negative eating habit. But when a woman was in a bad mood and then engaged in some sort of disordered eating habit, like bingeing, her mood seemed to worsen significantly.

"What we know about mood and eating behaviors comes primarily from studies with eating disorder patients or from laboratory studies," Kristin Heron, research associate at the Survey Research Center, said in a press release. "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."

Implications for treatment

Researchers will present the findings on March 15 at the American Psychosomatic Society conference in Miami, noting how the study could lead to helpful treatments for those with eating problems.

Joshua Smyth, professor of biobehavioral health at the Center for Healthy Aging and researcher in the study, explains, "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."

Source: Science Daily