One of the most powerful relationships many of us have is with food. Food can comfort us when we are sad, calm us when we are stressed, nurture us when we experience failure, and boost our mood when a low point strikes. For many people, these misguided relationships with food can cause weight gain and other lifestyle-related health issues, especially if food becomes a pervasive and regular tool of response to our fluctuating emotions. Nutritionists and psychologist are always looking for swap outs, food-wise to lower the calorie burden, since eating to treat feelings means consumption of way too many calories and the foods we typically choose are usually high sugar and full of fat; behavior-wise, to limit emotional eating by replacing food with other comfort tools. Well, what if you could paint your way to a happier mood?
In a recent study, researchers recruited students from a school in upstate New York during the fall of 2012. The breakdown of the participants included 22 men and 39 women, all in their early 20s. Most of the participants were slightly overweight, based on BMI measurements, and each participant's baseline daily intake of sugar and fat was calculated. The individuals were then placed into four unique groups, with specific drawing instructions.
One group was told to draw decadent cupcakes (high sugar, high fat were the descriptive terms used). Group two was told to draw traditional pizza. Group three was told to draw decadent strawberries (again the terms high sugar and high fat were used as inspiration). The fourth group of participants was told to draw peppers (vegetables). All four groups received the same red, green and black colored pencils. The researchers then used a tool that assesses mood, and asked the participants to rate their hunger, mood and level of interest and excitement before and after the drawing exercise. It should be noted that the participants had not eaten for several hours, and it took about 5 minutes to draw the assigned pictures.
The pizza group expressed a mood boost of about 28%, while the cupcake and decadent strawberry group described a mood boost of about 27%. Those who were in the pepper group only experienced a 1% mood boost. Interestingly, there was no difference in the excitement of hunger levels among the four groups.
The researchers postulate that the actual food depictions created the differences in mood, since the colors used to draw all the pictures was uniform. And despite varying BMIs and diets, the mood boost from the influence of the specific pictures was pretty clear. Though this is a small study, the researchers feel that this may be a new tool that can either help individuals who struggle with mood issues. or dieters, who easily turn to unhealthy food, to boost mood. It may also help people struggling with emotional eating, to break their unhealthy relationships with food. The researchers concede that more testing is necessary to further support these findings.
Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch? Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily @HealthGal1103. Catch her guest appearances on Marie! on Hallmark this summer and on other local and national news and talk shows. Check out other blogs on lifestyle issues at www.healthcentral.com/obesity
Published On: July 14, 2013