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Switch on your favourite playlist to avoid overeating when stressed, experts say

Experts say that listening to your favourite music when stressed can help avoid comfort eating (Nicholas Ansell/PA)
Experts say that listening to your favourite music when stressed can help avoid comfort eating (Nicholas Ansell/PA)

Instead of reaching for the chocolate when stressed, people should listen to their favourite music to keep comfort eating at bay, an expert has suggested.

Often people turn to food when they are feeling stressed or sad, and this can in turn cause them to overeat.

Researchers analysed how many snacks women ate after listening to certain types of music, in an attempt to see how food and music can help to combat negative emotions.

They found that after women who were made to feel sad by recalling an upsetting event listened to music that released anger or sadness, they ate half the amount of snacks (crisps, chocolate, popcorn, sweets) as sad women who did not listen to music.

The music included songs like Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, Eminem’s Mockingbird, and Linkin Park’s In The End.

Women who were made to feel stressed with unsolvable anagrams ate about 35% after listening to music that provided solace, like Coldplay’s Fix You or Sam Smith’s Lay Me Down.

Researchers suggest their findings indicate that people could potentially avoid emotional eating by reaching for their favourite playlist before opening the snack drawer.

Dr Helen Coulthard, an expert in eating behaviour at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU), said: “If you’re feeling stressed and you’re worried that might lead to eating lots of unhealthy junk food, get your headphones on and listen to some lovely comforting music.”

She added that the method could also help some people with weight loss.

While how music works to help people eat less is not known, experts suggest it could be linked to the release of happy hormones like dopamine and serotonin.

Annemieke van den Tol, a music psychologist from the University of Lincoln, who co-authored the study, said: “I think the take-home message is if we’re stressed we might have the tendency to do something to make us feel better, and unconsciously we might grab food because it is giving us a positive dopamine, serotonin, boost that makes us feel better.

“But think about alternatives – like music (which) can equally give you a boost and make you feel better when you’re sad or stressed.”

For each study 120 women were asked to name a song they listened to when sad, stressed or in need of distraction, and this was then played back to them when they were eating under the trial conditions.

The findings were presented at the British Science Festival being hosted by De Montfort University in Leicester.