Do you feel like some comfort food? You should listen to music instead!

People who eat when emotional could listen to music as a calorie-free alternative for regulating their mood, according to new research from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).

Academics have identified a strong correlation between people who listen to sad and angry music and those who over-eat to regulate similar negative emotions.

MAIN Listening to sad music

The explorative study highlights how those who engage in one type of behaviour are also likely to engage in the other behaviour.  

These people share similar pleasure activations in the brain to adapt emotion regulation strategies for mental - and sometimes physical - well-being.

The study from DMU’s Faculty of Health & Life Sciences concludes that music listening could therefore potentially be a healthier alternative to emotional eating.

Psychology lecturers Dr Annemieke van den Tol and Helen Coulthard have published the research, research, together with Waldie Hanser from the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands.

Dr van den Tol said both emotional eating and listening to music were ‘strategies of diversion’ used by people expressing or working through internalised anger or sadness.

She said: “Music listening for discharge (releasing anger or sadness) and emotional eating were positively associated with one another.

“They are versatile and effective tools to help people who want to distract from or improve negative feelings and thoughts. People use these strategies to ‘let themselves go’ in terms of their emotions.

“This points towards the possibility that music listening can fulfil some of people’s motivation for emotional eating. It is certainly a healthier way to cope.”

MAIN Emotional eating

The study also highlighted differences in emotion regulation strategies between people of better and worse mental health, which potentially points towards the possibility of some music listening strategies being useful as a physically and psychologically healthier alternatives for emotional eating.

For example listening to music for other reasons, such as entertainment or distraction, were only associated with emotional eating for people with low levels of depression, anxiety and stress.

A total of 571 people were quizzed about their eating and music listening habits, as well as their mental health, without knowing the real purpose of the study. This included men and women aged 18 to 65 representative of a diverse population.

People were asked about their eating behaviour and their reasons behind it, why they played music and how they felt when they listened. Researchers used the Music in Mood Regulation Scale, Dutch Eating Behaviour Questionnaire and Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scales.

Dr van den Tol said the study brought together two distinct areas of emotional regulation research.

She said: “Working with students, we realised they tended to like music and also eating as a way to cope with everyday worries, so we decided to get a better understanding of the link between them.”

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Unlike emotional eating, music does not imply an obvious physiological satisfaction, but research indicates that emotions can be regulated by music listening. Research on music listening has also found that music can make people feel meaningful and can be used as a diversion from boredom, intrusive thoughts or emotions.

In contrast, emotional eating, which satisfies emotional needs instead of hunger, is associated with negative health consequences, such as obesity, heart disease and type-two diabetes.  Emotional eating is a specific behaviour rather than a clinical diagnosis, but it can be a symptom of some eating disorder diagnoses.

The DMU researchers will now follow-up this study with behavioural research under laboratory conditions.

They are keen to find out how music listening can be used to reduce or be an alternative to emotional eating. They want to know if the relief felt when listening to music means that the motivation to over-eat disappears as a result.

Future research at DMU will look at both the short-term mood effects and long-term mental health effects.

Posted on Monday 25th June 2018

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