Mood and Weight

There's more to weight loss than watching what you eat

"Calories in, calories out" summarizes the law of thermodynamics in weight gain and loss. But other factors also determine the outcome of a weight-loss plan, including mood.

The relationship between mood and weight is complicated – affected by a variety of components that include food choices, hormones and individual coping skills.

Food Choices and Mood

Individual foods and eating patterns can affect mood and weight in both positive and negative ways. Several studies have shown that the caffeine in coffee improves mood.1 On the other hand, a study done in Finland found that people who responded to stress by eating had the highest body weights. More specifically, the study's "stress eaters" consumed more sausages, hamburgers, pizza, chocolate and alcohol than those who did not respond to stress by eating.2 Sweet, high fat, and calorie-dense foods may both relieve stress and be desired during times of stress.3

Hormones and Mood

Several hormones and other biological factors affect mood and, potentially, weight, including cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, and estrogen, a primary female sex hormone.

One study showed that women who were susceptible to high stress levels had lower cortisol levels and response to cortisol, a higher BMI, and a tendency toward emotional eating.4 Blood levels of the hormone ghrelin, which increases the desire to eat, are higher during periods of stress.5 In contrast, increases in the hormone leptin during times of stress may reduce food intake.6

Coping Skills, Mood, and Body Weight

The coping skills needed to handle the ups and downs of daily life have been identified as an area with a significant impact on body weight. Studies show that while underweight adults tend to eat less in response to positive and negative emotional states, overweight adults eat more.7 In contrast, adults who demonstrate higher self-efficacy pertaining to weight management are more confident and more successful at weight loss.8

Active participation in a weight management program can quickly reduce the negative mood contributors to excess weight. In a study done in the UK, participants in a 12-week “small changes” program demonstrated improvements in general well-being and mood.9

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2Laitinen J, Ek E, Sovio U. Stress-related eating and drinking behavior and body mass index and predictors of this behavior. Prev Med. 2002 Jan;34(1):29-39.

3Gibson EL. The psychobiology of comfort eating: implications for neuropharmacological interventions. Behav Pharmacol. 2012 Sep;23(5-6):442-60.

4 Tomiyama AJ, Dallman MF, Epel ES. Comfort food is comforting to those most stressed: evidence of the chronic stress response network in high stress women. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011 Nov;36(10):1513-9.

5 Schellekens H, Finger BC, Dinan TG, Cryan JF. Ghrelin signalling and obesity: at the interface of stress, mood and food reward. Pharmacol Ther. 2012 Sep;135(3):316-26.

6Tomiyama AJ, Schamarek I, Lustig RH, et al. Leptin concentrations in response to acute stress predict subsequent intake of comfort foods Physiol Behav. 2012 Aug 20;107(1):34-9.

7 Geliebter A, Aversa A. Emotional eating in overweight, normal weight, and underweight individuals. Eat Behav. 2003;3(4):341-7.

8Shin H, Shin J, Liu PY, et al. Self-efficacy improves weight loss in overweight/obese postmenopausal women during a 6-month weight loss intervention. Nutr Res. 2011 Nov;31(11):822-8.

9Paxman JR, Hall AC, Harden CJ, et al. Weight loss is coupled with improvements to affective state in obese participants engaged in behavior change therapy based on incremental, self-selected "small changes". Nutr Res. 2011 May;31(5):327-37.