Monthly Health Message:

Connections of Food to Mood Effect Weight

March 2011

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RD, FADA, CFCS
Family and Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Food is often connected to our emotions and this can lead to serious weight problems. For instance, many of us eat when we're under stress which triggers patterns of over-eating/under-eating. Often we find ourselves eating "mindlessly" out of frustration, anxiety, loneliness, or boredom. Consider your eating habits during these times and how you feel before, during and after eating. By thinking about what event triggers your eating habits, you can learn ways to disrupt those negative patterns. Try these suggestions:

Separate Eating Meals/Snacks from Other Activities - If you sit in your chair, watch TV, or read the morning paper, you will feel like eating any time you sit in this chair, regardless of physical hunger.

Consider Eating as a Pure Experience - Nothing else should be done while eating and every bite should be enjoyed. Otherwise, you get all the calories, but only part of the pleasure. These are calories wasted, not tasted. Other relevant factors during eating include speed of eating and rate of chewing.

Follow an Eating Schedule - Planning an eating routine or controlling the number of times you eat each day (especially if you tend to skip or delay meals and overeat later) can make a big difference.

Limit the Places Where You Eat - Most people associate places with eating. Some people can eat anywhere. They eat standing up, sitting down, at the kitchen counter, in an easy chair, lying in bed, or driving a car. Instead, select one place in your home where you will eat and eat all your meals there. [I deleted the rest because some people have no choice but to use their kitchen table for other things].

Follow these five behavioral techniques to break the mood/food relationship to lose and maintain your weight.

  1. Set Realistic Goals - This will help prevent disappointment and a sense of failure which can break your healthy meal and snack patterns. Make sure your weight loss goals are achievable. Plan on losing 1-2 pounds a week. If your goals are not realistic, it could lead to depression or disappointment as well as cheating or quitting your weight loss plan.
  2. Make Intermittent Goals - In other words, don't commit to an unrealistic goal of walking 25 blocks. Instead, make your goal for five blocks, and then take 'small steps' to increase your steps each day.
  3. Keep Food Records - Record everything you eat and drink. It could get as detailed as when, where, and what you're doing while eating. This way, you can keep track of how many calories you have eaten. It's the single, most effective behavioral tool to losing weight.
  4. Avoid a Chain Reaction - Some of us eat because of a behavior we're used to doing and continue to repeat. For example, we get stressed which leads to eating a cookie, which means falling off the weight loss plan, which leads to depression, which leads to eating more cookies. It's a chain reaction. In this case, break the chain with a non-food reward. Instead of a cookie, treat yourself to a hot bath or some other activity.
  5. Reward Yourself- Treat yourself for doing well but NOT with food. Instead of a candy bar, take a long hot bath or buy a favorite magazine. Take small steps to better health and you will achieve your weight loss goals.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences