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Eating Unhealthily Can Make Bad Moods Even Worse, Study

Update Date: Mar 15, 2013 01:59 PM EDT

Treating yourself to a box of chocolates when your feeling down may seem like a good way to lift your spirits.  However, researchers are urging people to think twice, after a new study revealed eating unhealthily could make bad moods even worse.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University found young women who were concerned about their diet and self-image felt even worse after taking part in unhealthy eating behaviors.

"There was little in the way of mood changes right before the unhealthy eating behaviors," Kristin Heron, research associate at the Survey Research Center, said in a statement. "However, negative mood was significantly higher after these behaviors."

In the study, presented Friday at the American Psychosomatic Society conference in Miami, Heron and her team found that young women who were concerned about their eating behaviors reported feeling even worse after sessions of disordered eating.

Researchers said the findings were based on real-life situations. Researchers gave handheld computers to 131 women who had high levels of unhealthy eating habits and concerns about their body shape and weight.  Researchers said none of the women had eating disorders.

"What we know about mood and eating behaviors comes primarily from studies with eating disorder patients or from laboratory studies," said Heron. "We were interested in studying women in their everyday lives to see whether mood changed before or after they engaged in unhealthy eating and weight control behaviors."

The participants were given handheld computers.  Researchers said several times during the day, the handheld devices would prompt the participants to answer questions about their mood and eating behaviors.

Researchers found that little change in participants' moods before bouts of unhealthy eating.  Investigators found that while negative moods got worse after disordered eating, positive moods did not change before or after any of the behaviors observed in the study.

Heron and her team believe the latest findings could lead to better treatments for women with eating problems.

"This study is unique because it evaluates moods and eating behaviors as they occur in people's daily lives, which can provide a more accurate picture of the relationship between emotions and eating," co-researcher Joshua Smyth, professor of bio-behavioral health, said in a university release. "The results from this study can help us to better understand the role mood may play in the development and maintenance of unhealthy eating, and weight-control behaviors, which could be useful for creating more effective treatment programs for people with eating and weight concerns." 

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