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Overeating, Indulgence Tied to Positive Emotions

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Which is more likely to send you head first into a big bowl of mac and cheese or your favorite dessert (or both?): a really good day or a really bad day?

Contrary to the idea that negative emotions drive people to overeat or to indulge their cravings, a recent three- part study that appeared in Appetite (2013; 68, 1–7) has shown, surprisingly, that positive emotions can influence eating indulgences as much as—or more than—negative emotions.

The abstract indicates that two labo- ratory studies were conducted in which positive emotions or no emotions were induced (Study 1) or, in addition, nega- tive emotions were induced (Study 2), after which unhealthy food intake was assessed by bogus taste tests. Study 3 was a 7-day diary study, in which food intake was assessed after subjects reg- istered their snack intake along with the emotions accompanying each snacking episode.

Studies 1 and 2 showed that positive emotions evoked more caloric intake than the control condition (no emotions). Dietary restraint did not moderate this effect. The second study additionally showed that positive emotions evoked as much caloric intake as did negative emotions. Study 3 showed that snack intake in daily life resulted from positive emotions more frequently than from neg- ative emotions.

The authors concluded, “Positive emotions serve as an important but under-investigated trigger for unhealthy food intake that deserves further scru- tiny. Future research should . . . inves- tigate whether food intake results from emotional arousal in general, or from emotional valence [degree of attraction or aversion] in particular.”

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster is the editor in chief of IDEA’s award-winning publications. She is Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified and is a Rouxbe Certified Plant-Based Professional cook.

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