Listening to Music Prevents Comfort Eating – New Research Suggests

15 February 2022

Written by: kmoss

New research suggests listening to music could provide a healthy alternative for people with emotional eating tendencies. 

New research suggests listening to music could provide a healthy alternative for people with emotional eating tendencies.

Researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK, in collaboration with De Montfort University, tested 360 women to underpin how food and music can be used to alleviate negative emotions.

Participants in the study were initially asked to recall sad memories. They then listened to pre-selected music, or were left in silence for three minutes, before taking part in a snack test. Those who ate in silence consumed over eight grams of snack foods whereas those listening to music ate significantly less – between four and five grams.

The genre of music was an important factor in this study. Participants were asked to select three songs that they listened to regularly when feeling sad or stressed to provide solace (comforting music), diversion (distracting positive music), or discharge (angry and/or sad music).

The outcomes of this research, which have recently been published in Appetite journal, indicate that listening to certain types of music might reduce emotion-related eating.

Emotions play an important role in overeating, yet there has been little research to understand practical strategies for reducing overeating in response to a negative mood – such as stress, sadness, boredom or anxiety.

Regular overeating of foods that are high in fat and sugar, yet low in nutritional value, is common in emotional eaters. These foods are often referred to as ‘comfort foods’ – reinforcing their emotional function.

The enjoyment of food and music cause a similar neural response in the brain as both can provide comfort and stabilise moods. However, regularly consuming food to regulate mood can lead to overeating and weight gain, whilst not effectively addressing the cause of the negative emotions.

It is also understood that those who use a wider variety of coping mechanisms for low mood have better mental health overall. Whilst eating is shown to be one of the least effective methods of dealing with emotions, listening to music is consistently viewed as a positive and helpful coping mechanism.

Dr Annemieke Van den Tol, Senior Psychology Lecturer at University of Lincoln, said: “Many people turn to various genres of music as a self-medication when they experience negative emotions. This can be a helpful and effective avenue for releasing or alleviating sadness, stress or anger.

“Our research indicates the possibility that music listening may also be used effectively to reduce the urge to overeat. I hope this research will ultimately support people to use healthier strategies for coping with negative moods and emotions.”

This research was led by Dr Annemieke Van den Tol from University of Lincoln and Dr Helen Coulthard of De Montfort University. Further information about the methods and outcomes of this research can be found here.