Emotions and Habit

Emotional eating is often characterized as a weakness more common in women, but a study from Cornell University shows that when sports are involved, men are equally prone to abandon rationality. This was determined by tracking the responses of college students to the victories and defeats of their hockey teams.

Asst. Prof. Robin Dando says that a person’s emotional state affects taste perception, and bummed-out people crave sweets more intensely than those in a positive frame of mind. ScienceDaily.com elucidates:

The study shows that emotions experienced in everyday life can alter the hedonic experience of less-palatable food, implying a link to emotional eating, according to the researchers. Dando explained, “In times of negative affect, foods of a less pleasurable nature become even more unappealing to taste, as more hedonically pleasing foods remain pleasurable. This is why when the team wins, we’re okay with our regular routine foods, but when they lose, we’ll be reaching for the ice cream.”

Looking at college students and exams, a University of California research team headed by Prof. Wendy Wood observed a different trend. When a person feels stressed or even simply tired, self-regulation can become a challenge. At exam time, consumers of morning doughnuts and pastries stuck with their preferences and, predictably, ate more sweets than usual.

Before we shake our heads over the folly of youth, two things: One, the students who typically ate healthy breakfasts continued to do so, and those who usually worked out at the gym continued to do so. In fact, their good habits became slightly more pronounced. Two: Remember what happened when French researchers examined the habits of grownup Americans in relation to the wins and losses of their favorite football teams? The day after a game, the losers’ fans consume crazy amounts of food, especially the kind replete with saturated fat.

In their efforts to discover interventions that can curb emotional eating, researchers from Kennesaw University have published several papers concerning the efficacy of “cognitive-behavioral methods of exercise support.” They have developed a treatment protocol that demonstrates “significantly greater improvements in exercise outputs and self-regulation.”

Getting back to the USC research, the point is that stress encourages people to stick with habit, either bad or good. Habits are what make up a human’s default mode. We know that habit is key, and that with kids, the best intervention is early intervention. Also we know that the W8Loss2Go smartphone application is a tool for the formation of habits. Kids will always love gadgets, and this one is a life-changer.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Is defeat sweeter than victory? Researchers reveal the science behind emotional eating,” ScienceDaily.com, 07/09/15
Source: “Healthy habits die hard: In times of stress, people lean on established routines — even healthy ones,” EurekAlert.org, 05/27/13
Source: “Indirect effects of exercise on emotional eating through psychological predictors of weight loss in women,” NIH.gov, December 2015
Photo credit: John Althouse Cohen via Visual Hunt/CC BY-ND

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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