Bad moods lead to bad habits: 2 in 5 adults seek out food when having a rough day

NEW YORK — Feel down? A new study finds your bad day will probably result in an extra trip to the refrigerator later. Americans are more likely to turn to food as a mood-booster above any other coping mechanism.

A recent survey asked 2,000 respondents about the strategies they use when they’re in a bad mood. Researchers discovered 43 percent will “eat something” just to feel better. As for the most popular food category they reach for, half of all respondents choose “sweet treats,” with “salty snacks” trailing behind as a distant second (38%).

Don’t blame my diet!

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Hope Foods, the survey also found that other commonly-recommended methods for lifting one’s spirits didn’t prove to be nearly as popular. For example, only 32 percent of respondents say they stretch or exercise, while even fewer (29%) will go outside for some fresh air. However, while eating turned out to be the most popular pick-me-up in the short term, only 25 percent of those polled believe that their diet has a major impact on their long-term mental health.

Instead, many respondents blamed a bad mental health day on stressful life events (43%), poor sleep (34%), and stress in general (34%) before citing the effects of a poor diet (25%). Similarly, respondents also cited stress (42%) and lack of sleep (42%) as bigger mood-killers than hunger (35%) or even digestive problems (15%).

When asked what steps they’ve taken to improve their mental health on a long-term basis, almost four in 10 respondents preferred to focus on their sleeping habits (38%) and workout routine (36%). So far, those efforts appear to be producing mixed results; 45 percent said they frequently struggle with issues of mental illness, while one in ten only feel like they’re in an actively good mood for one day out of the week.

“What we choose to eat can have a huge impact on how we feel,” says Integrated Nutrition Health Coach Nicole Pavlica, in a statement. “Serotonin, the hormone that influences mood and feelings of happiness, is regulated by the gut. When the microbiome of the digestive system is optimized, all the body’s systems work better — including the brain.”

Healthy mind, healthy stomach?

Not surprisingly, most respondents were not aware of just how deep this connection goes. While three in five people have heard the term “gut-brain axis” before, only one in five feel confident that they know what it means. Less than half of the respondents specifically consume foods, drinks, or supplements for their gut health. Another one in 10 don’t think about their gut health at all.

That may change as awareness of the gut-brain axis continues to spread, as 44 percent of survey-takers already believe it’s lack of education that has the biggest negative impact on mental health. Even if they’re fuzzy on the science however, 72 percent of the poll admitted that eating healthier often does make them feel better.

“Eating a variety of nutritionally dense foods and limiting consumption of damaging foods, like sugars and highly processed foods, helps the body and mind operate at their best,” Pavlica adds. “You can support your physical and mental health by dramatically increasing your consumption of colorful vegetables at every meal, and by taking a daily probiotic. These support the microbiome and provide the body with needed nutrients.”

If faced with the news that their all-time favorite food was harmful to their health, three out of four people said they would cut back or give it up entirely.

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