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The Fitness Zone

June 9, 2017

By Anna Swan, WA Fitness Coach 

As humans we engage in a variety of behaviours to regulate our mood. Primarily, it is activities that help boost it, such as spending time with family and friends, going to the movies, attending a yoga class or having some ‘me’ time. Amongst these activities it is important to recognise that food consumption is also a mood regulating behaviour. To regulate mood and emotions individuals alter their food choices and quantities. Food becomes a potent natural reward and food intake is a complex process. When we eat we experience reward and gratification and this leads to dopamine production, which activates the reward and pleasure section of our brain.

In this article we cover some of the ways food affects our mood by exploring the reasons behind comfort eating and why we crave sugar, also known as carbohydrates. Once we learn more of the ‘why’ this happens we will cover some tips and tricks that can be incorporated into everyday life on ‘how’ to get our mindsets in the game of healthy eating. Understanding some of the reasons you have cravings and how to overcome them can help you lead a happier and healthier life.


Highly palatable foods, often consumed as ‘comfort food’ activate the same reward and pleasure regions of the brain that are active in drug addiction. Dopamine, which directly activates those brain regions, affects both mood and food intake. This supports the link between psychology and eating behaviours and helps explain why we tend to consume processed ‘junk food’ following negative events, such as a bad day at work or a break up. On a short term basis comfort eating helps alleviate the negative emotions we feel.

The problem is that this ‘happy feeling’ can be highly addictive. Imagine this, you are feeling upset so you eat some chocolate then feel better; it can become really hard to not want chocolate every time you are upset. Comfort eating can be a double edged sword. Initially you may feel better but this is temporary and a few hours later your blood sugar takes a massive crash, which can make you more grumpy and irritable.

There are a range of reasons why we crave sugar. Study after study has shown it is highly addictive. After eating ‘bad’ processed carbohydrates, such as biscuits and lollies, our blood sugar levels fall dramatically and subsequently leave us craving more high calorie, low nutrient foods. Other lifestyle factors can leave us craving more sugar, such as high levels of stress and poor sleep, due to them messing with our hormone levels.

So how do you overcome these cravings and get back on track to leading a healthy lifestyle?


1.  Give Up Dieting, Now

Diets don’t last! If there were one diet that worked we would all be on it, right? Your choice of meals and snacks should be something you can eat today and sustain for the rest of your life.

2.  Stop Overeating

Eat slowly and mindfully until you feel satisfied, not stuffed! How many times do you eat in front of the television until every last mouthful is gone?  You may not have even been hungry to start with. Start listening to your body and by eating consciously and mindfully you are being aware of when you feel satiated. Overeating can be a huge setback in progress. If you are eating predominantly healthy food choices and not seeing results then have a look at your portion sizes. Try filling your plate with ½ salad (predominantly leafy greens), ¼ protein (lean beef, chicken, salmon, lentils) and ¼ complex carbohydrates (quinoa, brown rice, potato, sweet potato). Keep in mind the size of your plate - the bigger it is, the more food you are likely to consume to feel satisfied.

3.  Throw Away Your Scales

Don’t let the number on the scales in the morning determine the rest of your day. Bathroom scales are not an accurate measurement of your health. To start with, you don’t know what percentage of that is body fat, muscle mass, skeletal mass or water. To put it into perspective, drinking 1L of water will make you weigh 1kg ‘heavier’. It can be particularly detrimental when higher/lower numbers result in food deprivation, bingeing or not feeling ‘good enough’.

4.  Fail To Prepare, Prepare To Fail

Have a variety of healthy options in your fridge and pantry. Better yet, have them sitting there ready in your freezer. We’re all familiar with the feeling of hangry (hungry/angry) when you could eat your way through the supermarket aisles. You’re more likely to make unhealthy choices when you’re hungry and don’t have any food available. Having healthy choices available keeps us on track during the week. Another positive is that it can be much cheaper compared to buying meals on the go.

5.  Consistency Is Key

Remember, it’s all about moderation and your diet shouldn’t control your feelings and actions. You have roughly 21 main meals per week. Therefore don’t get caught up on that one ‘bad’ meal you had. If the other 20 are wholesome, nutritious meals then it is not going to affect your progress. So go out and enjoy that pizza or burger with your friends! 

This content is not intended to be used as individual health or fitness advice divorced from that imparted by medical, health or fitness professionals. Medical clearance should always be sought before commencing an exercise regime. The Institute and the authors do no take any responsibility for accident or injury caused as a result of this information.

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