Do you turn to comfort food after a stressful day at work? Or maybe you smash back a whole bag of crisps when you’re feeling down. Emotional eating is an unhelpful habit that is unfortunately very common. Although it feels good in the moment, eating your feelings can lead to a host of long-term health issues including obesity. Researchers know why we overeat but they have not yet figured out how to stop. A new study recently found that music could be a solution to this issue. Read below to find out what causes us to emotionally eat and how listening to your favourite songs could solve the problem.
Eating is not just about physical hunger. We eat for a range of reasons including pleasure or to fulfil social expectations. It is not disputed that our emotions affect our food habits. The act of eating causes the reward system in our brains to light up which improves our mood. Food can bring relief when we are feeling low. Unfortunately this great feeling is only temporary and after it wears off we usually realise we have eaten too much. Emotional eating is typically done with food low in nutrients but high in fat, sugar and calories. If we do it too often, our health will take a turn for the worse. Psychologists say that emotional eating is one of the least effective ways to deal with uncomfortable emotions. So the question is, how can we self-soothe without demolishing the pantry in the process?
Researchers at the University of Lincoln thought it was high time we found a solution to the problem of emotional eating. A recent study tested 360 women to see if listening to music would reduce the amount of food eaten when sad. They first asked the participants to recall sad memories and then gave them snacks to eat. One group sat in silence while eating their snacks while the other group got to listen to their favourite music. The group who got to listen to their self-selected songs ate half as much as those who chowed down in silence. This led the scientists to conclude that our favourite songs can alleviate negative emotions. A lot of us will not find this surprising at all. Great music can make us feel on top of the world and be an effective distraction from painful thoughts. However for those who never considered music as an alternative to stress eating, this revelation could be a life changer.
Music Affects The Brain
The enjoyment of music and food causes the same neural response in the brain. Both actions cause a release of the chemical dopamine which gives us a little rush. This means that we can choose to either eat or listen to music and get the same result. As they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Food is not the only tool in our emotion regulating toolbox. Although tasty snacks do give us the dopamine hit our bodies are searching for, regular overeating can lead to weight gain and negative health issues. So why put your health at risk if there is another option? The best thing about being human is that we are in control of our choices. Opening the fridge might be tempting when we are in a bad mood but it is not the only activity that will make us feel better on a neural level. Know that you are in control of your actions and swap the snacks for some soothing sounds instead.
Which Genre Is Best?
This study also noted that the genre matters. You can’t just chuck on any radio station and expect it to be a satisfactory substitute for emotional eating. Ideally, you should choose songs that resonate with you and tangibly affect your mood. The participants in the study were told to select songs that either provided solace, diversion or discharge. This means they could choose comforting songs, distracting upbeat tunes or angry music. Some songs that were chosen include Mockingbird by Eminem and In The End by Linkin Park. The best song choice will depend on your personal preferences. Some people find heavy rock alleviates their bad mood much more than catchy pop songs do. Make a playlist of your favourite melodies to listen to when sad. The next time you get the urge to eat your feelings, put your earphones in instead. Even if you listen to the music while eating, research suggests you might eat less than if you were to munch in silence.
Obviously far more research in this area needs to be done. Hopefully this study will spark more similar projects because the more we know about how to cope with stress, the better our quality of life will be. Those who use a variety of mechanisms to cope with bad moods have better mental health. The practical implications of this study are that we can try music instead of food the next time we feel down in the dumps. Opting for a Spotify playlist over a bag of Doritos is so much better for our waistline and health. The next time you feel like eating your feelings, grab your earphones instead. You will trigger the same feel good chemicals in your brain without needing to go near the kitchen. Also considering the price of food these days, the music option is better for your wallet as well as your health.