Cues From Your Mood Can Help Set Healthy Limits with Food

While this topic is a bit out of my clinically-based comfort zone, it is a very important one. It’s important not to deprive ourselves and eat what our bodies are craving. Sure, this is more anecdotal than science-based, but it can be helpful to ask yourself – what is it about candy, ice cream, or chocolate that calls us during certain moods? The key is to make sure we’re not creating any bad habits in the process of responding to what our mood might be telling us to eat. Below, I’m breaking down some connections between food and mood. It’s a topic my nonprofit Fare Meals will explore more during a webinar on April 27.


When we’re going through a rough patch that involves grief it’s common in our culture to think of gravitating towards foods that are connected to craving sugar. If you’re reaching for a pint of ice cream, it’s important to ask yourself why? Is it because it’s culturally synonymous with comfort? Your desired comfort food might be different from mine. Personally, I’ll go for a bag of popcorn or a bag of potato chips when I’m feeling blue. Of course, everything in moderation is key, but it’s important to ask yourself if the dairy and sugar in a pint of ice cream is really going to help us feel better? Also, when feeling sad overindulging can trigger binge eating and can parlay into a worsened mood later. This can lead to feeling regret and shame instead of feeling relief. High-fat dairy foods may feel good at the moment, but in fact multiple studies suggest diets high in sugar and high-fat dairy products to be associated with higher amounts of depression and anxiety. They are also prone to cause faster highs and lows to our blood sugars, causing us to feel more tired and lethargic faster. Nutrients that are helpful in improving mood would be omega-3 fatty acids, as well as fermented foods.


Culturally, we’ve been socialized to mark celebrations or general life wins with decadent, high calorie foods. Which is why even when things are going well it’s a good idea to identify your comfort foods and learn when you’ve had enough. Serving sizes are helpful guides to use and see where you are in terms of having your fill or not. Two or three bites is enough for some, and three cups is usually too much. Everyone’s body has its own individual saturation cues but generally as soon as you’re not hungry anymore —feeling satisfied, not overstuffed, is usually a good indicator you’ve had enough. We often associate a happy mood with celebrations and holidays which include gatherings. A BBQ is a good example of a happy celebration that might include high fat and high protein foods. There are many opportunities to also include tons of whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, as well as lean proteins to help keep us feeling light and energized. This ultimately is a good way to sustain a happy mood during this joyous time.

Nervous / Anxious

In times of high stress, you can lose your appetite entirely. Worse, the demands on your time can be so high you just forget to eat. Even with a hectic schedule and ubiquitous deadlines our bodies still generally need three meals and two snacks a day or six small meals a day. There’s no need to obsess over what meals should look, because having multiple snacks throughout the day can be good enough. If preparing to have six small meals / snacks during the day it seems daunting here are some tips I use in my own life as a registered dietitian. For breakfast, I like to have a smoothie. A few hours later, nuts and a piece of fruit. Lunch is a cheese stick and some vegetables or vegetables and hummus, and so on. Three or more of those smaller meals are crucial to keeping our blood sugar stable and our energetic momentum intact. It’s totally okay if a meal is overnight oats, cut vegetables, protein-packed snacks, or a smoothie. Planning can take stress out of the process. Preparation the night before can be instrumental in meeting your body’s dietary needs, especially if you know you won’t have time the next day to stop and think.


In times of transition, or even in the middle of the afternoon, lethargy can pay us a visit or even try to take over. This can be a cue to avoid simple carbs – cookies, cakes, or candy. Instead reach for complex carbs, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and high protein foods. This prevents our blood sugar from spiking and crashing. Erratic blood sugar levels can feed sluggishness. This can be a huge problem for people who work overnight shifts because it’s all too easy to reach for sweets to stay awake. Instead, that slump may be your body’s request to prioritize proper foods that will give you a little extra energy— complex carbs, high protein, lean proteins. These healthier options can fuel your energy levels to meet the demands of any schedule.

We’ve been conditioned to allow our moods to dictate our eating habits. Fortunately, by choosing a simple, no-nonsense approach, listening to our bodies cues to eat, and eating mindfully for our moods, we can more easily stick to healthy portion sizes and avoid overindulgence. Whipping up some overnight oats and packing up some lean protein and veggies before bed can also make a big difference in the amount of stress, anxiety or lethargy you meet the next day. At the same time, our favorite foods aren’t forbidden. Indulge, but listening to your body’s cues can prevent you from eating more than necessary. Ask yourself, can you even taste that extra spoonful of ice cream or extra handful of candy? If not, that’s a good marker you’re not even really enjoying it anymore. Your body is cuing you to set a limit. A limit you’ll be healthier and happier that you established in the long run. Join us on April 27 as personal trainer Leslie Richmann and I unpack this topic even more.

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