Emotional Eating About More Than Just Self Control

New study analyzes the correlation between mood and taste perception

You know the drill. You’re feeling down — maybe a bad day at work or a fight with your significant other — and when you finally get home, you decide to treat yourself to something sweet. The jar of Nutella in the cupboard looks promising. So you have one spoonful, then another, and another, and suddenly, you’re staring at an empty container, wondering, “What in the world is wrong with me?” 

According to a study just published in PLOS One: nothing. Researchers Petra Platte, Corenila Herbert, Paul Pauli, and Paul A. S. Breslin collectively investigated whether our sense of taste is affected or altered by our state of mind, and it turns out, it is.

Hypothesizing that the way we feel impacts the way we eat, the study first manipulated participants’ moods by showing them “sad,” “happy,” and “neutral” video clips. Afterward, participants took a taste test in which they were asked to rate respective levels of sweet, umami, sour, bitter, and fatty.

Results showed that “people with mild subclinical depression were not able to rate fat intensities according to concentrations after either the positive or the negative mood induction.”


So the next time you feed your feelings with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, don’t feel too guilty: There is a biological explanation. Though, perhaps in explaining emotional eating, the research can serve as inspiration to avoid it. After all, if you can’t fully appreciate all the fatty goodness in ice cream, what’s the point?