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Unhealthy eating can make a bad mood worse

18 March 2013, 13:25

Taking part in unhealthy eating behaviours may cause women who are concerned about their diet and self-image to experience a worsening of their moods, according to Penn State researchers.

In a study, college-age women who were concerned about their eating behaviours reported that moods worsened after bouts of disordered eating, said Kristin Heron, research associate at the Survey Research Center.

"There was little in the way of mood changes right before the unhealthy eating behaviours," said Heron. "However, negative mood was significantly higher after these behaviours."

According to Heron, who worked with Joshua Smyth, professor of biobehavioural health, Stacey Scott, research associate in the Center for Healthy Aging, and Martin Sliwinski, professor of human development and family studies, people who experience disordered eating patterns may exhibit behaviours such as binge eating, loss of control over eating and food intake restriction.

How the study was done

The researchers detected little change in the participants' moods prior to unhealthy eating. While negative mood was worse after disordered eating, a positive mood did not change either before or after any of the behaviours studied by the researchers.

The researchers gathered data from participants in real-life situations. The team gave handheld computers to 131 women who had high levels of unhealthy eating habits and concerns about their body shape and weight, but did not have eating disorders. Several times during the day, the devices would prompt the participants to answer questions about their mood and eating behaviours.

"What we know about mood and eating behaviours comes primarily from studies with eating disorder patients or from laboratory studies," said Heron. "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 behaviours."

Smyth said that the study could lead to better treatments for women experiencing eating problems.

"This study is unique because it evaluates moods and eating behaviours as they occur in people's daily lives, which can provide a more accurate picture of the relationship between emotions and eating," Smyth said. "The results from this study can help us to better understand the role mood may play in the development and maintenance of unhealthy eating, and weight-control behaviours, which could be useful for creating more effective treatment programs for people with eating and weight concerns."



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