The Sunday Times – Britain
The Sunday Times
October 16, 2005
Choice of food can reveal your moodRoger Dobson and Ben Dowell
YOU really are what you eat. Psychologists have found that personality and mood can be betrayed by the choice of food on a person’s plate.
While angry people prefer tough food such as meat that they can chomp and chew, those who are depressed opt for the stimulation of sugary food and caffeine.
Those who are of a jealous disposition often pile their plates high with whatever is available, perhaps indicating that they had to compete with siblings at the dinner table when they were children.
The study, which uses data from the case notes of more than 500 people, is thought to be the first to detail what foods are linked with what states of mind. The results suggest restaurateurs — and diners — may subtly be able to alter mood by changing what is eaten.
“Only hard crunchy mastication will suffice when someone needs to take out their anger,” said Cynthia Power, an American psychotherapist, based in Illinois, who has studied addictions for 30 years. “Alternatively, loneliness is artificially assuaged with bulky, fill-up-the-stomach foods.”
Her findings will be included in a study of addiction to be published later this month. Power added: “Food can be used to change feelings the person doesn’t want to have.”
Power compared what her patients ate with their mood and personality. She found that people going through crises, such as divorce, favoured soft, sweet products such as custard and ice cream because they were “seeking comfort levels with foods they once found in childhood”.
Those who were stressed craved salty food such as crisps. “Stressed adrenal glands (which produce the stress hormone adrenaline) often send out salt-craving signals,” her study concluded.
Those who were sexually frustrated enjoyed foods high in carbohydrates, particularly crackers, pretzels and bread, to fill the stomach quickly and provide satisfaction.
The findings resonate with food experts. Raymond Blanc, the French owner of the two-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, said his fiancée Natalia Traxel, a doctor, favoured hard food to chew on when angry. In her case, it took the form of plain baguettes.
“There is something about the way you eat big chunky food which can express your mood,” said Blanc. “The movements are quite muscular and fast, which is physically quite expressive.”
William Leith, 45, author of The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict, said the report bore out his experiences of binge eating to distract himself from emotional problems.
“If you are unhappy you go for food that is high in sugar and carbohydrates, like doughnuts, toast and so on,” said Leith, who added that such foods gave a quick blood sugar rush which soon faded and had to be replenished.
“Eating high carb food creates a whole drama of going and getting the food, eating it, feeling guilty and then feeling hungry again.”
Among writers who have examined the emotional power of food is Joanne Harris, the Anglo-French novelist whose books include Chocolat, which in 2000 was made into a film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp.
Binoche’s character, Vianne Rocher, is a chocolate-maker who predicts each of her customer’s precise desires. “Contrary to the study’s claims that sweet food is eaten by people who are unhappy, chocolate in my book is a metaphor for love and it reflects Vianne’s healthy and balanced attitude towards life and enjoying your body,” said Harris.
“But what people eat and how they eat is a valuable indicator of what they are like. You see people who attack food with tremendous gusto and you think they are open, extrovert and passionate about life.”
However, Hubert Lacey, professor of psychosomatic medicine at St George’s medical school in London, said the findings presented an “interesting hypothesis” but the subject required closer examination.
“In my experience people who are stressed do tend to opt for quite liquid food because it seems to offer some comfort,” he said. “But it is more complicated than this.”
Lord Hattersley, the Labour peer, who has cut many foods out of his once unhealthy diet, agreed with some of the findings. “Chocolate used to be my comfort food but that’s a throwback to when I was a little boy,” said Hattersley, who now weighs 14st 7lb.
“If I fell down and grazed my knee, my mother gave me some chocolate. But perhaps I don’t need it any longer. I certainly don’t miss it.”
What your food says about how you feel
Sad Sugary food, caffeine
In need of comfort Custard, ice cream
Lonely Rice, pasta
Stressed or ambitious Crisps, soy sauce, onions
Sexually frustrated Biscuits, bread
Jealous Pile the plate with anything