Turns Out Chocolate Does Not Solve Everything, Study Says

Big-picture mentality can help change food choices based on mood.



As a kid in the 1970s, I remember watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” with my mom and watching her laugh hysterically at the character named Rhoda. Rhoda was Mary’s best friend and a source of fantastic one-liners. On one particular episode where Mary was upset, Rhoda offered her chocolate. The conversation went like this:

Mary: “No thanks, Rhoda. Chocolate doesn't solve anything.”

Rhoda: “That’s where you’re wrong, Mary. Chocolate solves everything.”

I loved this mentality: Chocolate solves everything. As a health and wellness writer I have explored the topic of emotional eating in the past, but now, due to new research, I have reason to dive back into this mindset. Why do people turn to delicacies such as chocolate or less healthy foods when they feel they need a solution or change of mood?

Researchers at the University of Delaware have been studying this very issue and found fascinating insights as to how people can change their immediate need for “chocolate” into a healthier choice when the going gets tough.

Dr. Meryl Gardner and her colleagues found that looking at the big picture could change food choices based on mood. People tend to reach for the unhealthy item while in a bad mood to experience the immediate gratification and sensory response that they find nurturing and helpful to cope with the negative feelings. Gardner’s research demonstrated that focusing on long-term health benefits of choosing an apple or something non-food related could help redirect those choices.

“We are all aware of our tendencies,” says Gardner. “Emotions may lead us in certain directions, but we can still change those tendencies. We tend to focus on the immediate experience when tending to a negative mood, but we are capable of refocusing and making healthier choices.”

Having a plan is like having a toolbox. Unhealthy foods such as doughnuts or candy bars are highly accessible. In office kitchens, vending machines and convenience stores, the options seem endless. If our stress levels lead us to unhealthy food choices in these settings, that big picture can help us plan ahead. For some it may be a lower-calorie chocolate snack, a walk around the block or a quick phone call with a friend to vent.

By using the big picture mindset you cannot only avoid an unhealthy choice or behavior, you can congratulate yourself for taking the healthier road. Perhaps there could be research done about how the mood changes after congratulating oneself. I would love to see an episode where Rhoda participated in that study. 

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