Food and Mood

This post may contain affiliate links. See full disclosure here.

I remember the first time that I connected food with my mood. I was a freshman in high school and had experienced a particularly stressful day (at 15 it seemed I had many of those). I had to stay in town for something and somehow decided that the few dollars I had on me would be well spent at the soda fountain. The soda fountain was part of an ‘old fashioned’ pharmacy that a friend of my dad owned. I remember sitting down at the counter and ordering a caramel sundae. I think by the third bite all was right in my world. Thus began my turning to food for comfort and relaxation.

I don’t have any other specific memories of finding comfort in food but it did become habitual. Until I was in my mid 30’s it never affected my weight but I’m sure it affected my health. I’m sure that my food/mood correlation has added to my history of IBS, anxiety and a host of other things. It is funny that while certain foods have made me ‘feel good’ at the time the overall damage has added to me ‘feeling bad’.
I’d like to tell you that after learning more about nutrition and the Weston A. Price concepts I no longer find the need to turn to food for comfort. But I’d be lying…
Recently I had a particularly intense day, not necessarily stressful but a day that required me to be completely absorbed in my task (have I mentioned that tax season here?) and totally ‘on deck’. I had wisely put a nourishing dinner in the crock pot early in the morning before beginning my task but I still found myself wishing for more. So I called Joe and asked him to bring me a ‘treat’ home when he returned from work. I rarely make that kind of a call.
Joe did very well accommodating my desire for this treat. He brought home a store bakery cake and ice cream. I’d like to tell you that once he got home with it I came to my senses and knew better than eat it. After all, I know that the cake frosting is made with some sort of shortening which is a dandy source of rancid and dangerous polyunsaturated fat. Plus the cake itself is made from ‘enriched’ white flour which is completely dead and devoid of nutrition plus contains its own dose of polyunsaturated fat. And to round it off, the ice cream contained wonderful ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil (more of that rancid oil plus the fact soybeans have there own set of disturbing side affects) and a whole selection of other ingredients many of which I cannot pronounce. At least I did not see wood pulp as one of the ingredients. Even knowing all of this, I still had a bowl of ice cream and a piece of cake. And while it tasted somewhat good both were way to sweet and really didn’t give me the mood enhancement I was looking for. I did get some other ‘enhancements’.
I had trouble falling asleep, my skin was itchy, I woke up several times during the night and to top it off I jolted out of bed around 5AM with a cramp in my calf. All of this from a bowl of ice cream and a piece of cake? Possibly. I don’t plan on repeating the process anytime soon to determine if that was the cause.
I’m glad I didn’t get the mood enhancement from the food. It makes me think that maybe that part of my life is over. I’m sad though that I still had that desire to try to ‘fix’ my issues with food. You know, one thing that I’m learning more and more in this real food journey is that I was really messed up before. I always thought we started eating real/traditional/whole foods because we wanted too. We didn’t have any issues with food and it was completely by choice as a way of eating foods closer to the way God intended them. I no longer believe that to be the case.
But if I’m so enlightened now then why do I still want to eat stuff that I know I shouldn’t? Why would I even want to put something that could contain wood pulp into my body, into my children’s body? Why does eating out at restaurants that I know are going to leave me sick still happen? You know that I’m all about compromise when necessary but things like a store bought cake, ice cream and a (poor choice) restaurant meal are not compromise things. These are things that I should just say no too. And I wonder if I said no a little more often if we might be able to make less compromises too…
Please tell me I am not the only one who has a history of self-medicating with food.
Photo Credit: amanky on Flickr
Millie Copper
Millie Copper is a Wyoming wife and mama. After reading Nourishing Traditions in early 2009, her family began transforming their diet to whole, unprocessed, nutrient dense foods—a little at a time while stretching their food dollars. Millie is passionate to share how, with a little creativity, anyone can transition to a real foods diet without overwhelming their food budget. Millie began blogging in late 2009 and has amassed a collection of frugal recipes and methods. Her specialties include cooking with wild game and creating “Stretchy Beans”. Discovering a love of writing, she has penned four books focusing on healthy eating on a budget and is trying her hand at fiction writing. Learn more at


  1. Angela

    >Of course you're not the only one with a history of self-medicating with food! I used to go to the bakery section of the grocery store and buy the sweetest thing I could find. . . . or eat a whole box of Little Debbie snack cakes.

    I keep thinking I should make my own (healthier) sweets for such an occasion but I don't. There's never any hurry to find the recipe or think about it until that bad day hits . . . .

    Of late, I've tried both ice cream (doesn't agree with me) and frozen yogurt, but even those are highly processed products. I keep dark chocolate around, but that doesn't seem to satisfy the craving, although such cravings are really rare now that I eat well.

    It would be nice to identify WHAT it is that we're craving exactly, the sugar, the fat? For me, I think it's primarily the fat, so some sort of coconut concoction might satisfy . . .

  2. Tiff :o)

    >I think most people try to fix their mood with food. I think it's part of our culture.

    I made dessert last night for an activity I'm going to tonight. It smelled so good while I was mixing it up that I almost snitched. But I finally won out. Actualy, I don't really get cravings for sugary foods too much anymore. I found the trick for me is to not allow any sweets at all. I tried once a week, once a month, only if it was homemade, etc. None of that worked. Now that I've given up sugary sweets a couple of months ago, things are going much more smoothly. Maybe someday I will be able to trust myself to have just one gninger snap, or small piece of brownie…but for now, if it has sugar or artificial sweetners in it, it's off limits.

    Just like you though, just because I understand things about food doesn't stop me from wanting some "forbidden" item. When I first gave up soda 18 years ago, I thought I would die without it. Eventually, I was ok without it. About a year later, I drank a soda…and kept drinking for a couple weeks before I decided it really held no appeal to me and I quit that day for good. I no longer have any desire…in fact it repulses me when I accidentally drink someone's Sprite instead of my water. With time, your body will readjust…sometimes that adjustment takes a very long time though…and once you realize it isn't as good as your mind is making you think it will be, that's a huge step in the right direction.

  3. IrishGal

    >That is one issue I've been dealing with for a long time. One of the things that helped was something I learned in one of my Weight Watcher attempts. They used to have a "core plan." One of the things about that plan was that it taught a person to listen to their body and only eat when it is hungry. I would now add – eat what it is really hungry for (good foods with real nutrition). I'm still learning how to listen to my body.

    I'm trying dried fruit for sweet cravings. If I need chocolate, I go for some organic chocolate. Not great fixes, but a little of those goes a long way for me. I end up eating less.

  4. Millie

    >Great to know that I am not alone! I suspected as much 🙂

    While I do really enjoy sweets the 'need' that I experienced recently hadn't been strong for some time. Don't get me wrong, we still have ice cream or home made desserts some times but this was so different.

    I hadn't thought about it being part of our culture but I suspect that you are right, Tiff.

    Angela, I've thought about making 'healthy' fudge or something and keeping it in the freezer but then I'd have to hide it from myself so I'd stay out of it.

    IrishGal, I think that makes sense. I just wish my body wouldn't have been hungry for cake and ice cream 😉

  5. Erin

    >Even though I ostensibly "know better" now, I still give in to mood-altering foods. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with a gluten allergy, which meant no more Little Debbie snack cakes, or bakery treats, which was devastating. However, there are enough (super expensive!) gluten-free treats out there so I surely do not go wanting.

    I'll even stand at the fridge, saying "I don't really want this, I don't really want this," and then eat it anyway! Those primal cravings are extremely powerful. I'd go so far as to say I have a food addiction problem – but unlike, say, heroin, I can't just quit eating food cold-turkey, of course. It's a horrible problem to have.

    So, you are definitely not alone! While it seems mostly women fall victim to this, I know some men do, too. A guess as to why we don't hear about the men as often is because our culture centers more eating/weight guilt on women than it does men, so men don't feel "naughty" when they indulge.

    I know there are evolutionary reasons for craving certain foods (sugar is fast energy and brain food, for example,) but I surely have no dearth of calories or nutrients in my diet – I'm pretty sure what I'm experiencing is all behavioral conditioning. Alas!

  6. Millie

    It's great to see you here! I think you are right about it being more of a female thing. But I do sometimes notice my husband going for a 'snack' right after a big meal. Of course, he usually picks nuts or something like that so maybe that doesn't count.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *