March 17/State College, Pa./Penn State News -- Many women will admit they are emotional eaters, but Penn State researchers wanted to find out exactly how emotions drive eating behaviors. In a press release, investigators describe a study showing unhealthy foods can lead to worsening mood.

Kristin Heron, research associate at the Survey Research Center, explains the finding showed women who engage in disordered eating behaviors from bad mood reported they felt worse after making unhealthy food choices.

The impetus for the study that was presented March 15, 2013, at the American Psychosomatic Society conference in Miami, was to find out how emotions influence eating in daily life.

Heron says until now most of the information available about binge eating, controlling food intake or overeating comes from either lab studies or investigations of people with eating disorders.

Joshua Smyth, professor of biobehavioral health who took part in the study said in a press release, "This study is unique because it evaluates moods and eating behaviors as they occur in people's daily lives, which can provide a more accurate picture of the relationship between emotions and eating.”

College age women concerned about their body shape and size were given hand held computers that prompted them several times a day to answer questions about their mood and eating. The study included 131 women.

None of the women had eating disorders, but they did have high levels of unhealthy eating. The goal was to see if mood changed before or after eating unhealthy food.

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress, loneliness, boredom or just everyday stresses can drive us to high calorie meals that can thwart weight loss efforts. However, the end result is feeling bad and overeating again, creating a vicious cycle.

What the researchers found is that making bad food choices worsens mood, but in the study, there were no negative emotions reported among women who were in good spirits before eating.

Smyth says the finding could lead to better programs for people with concerns about weight and eating. The study provides more understanding about how mood influences unhealthy eating behaviors.

Suggestions to help control overeating that can lead to a downward spiral of negative emotions include yoga, meditation, keeping a food diary and learning to forgive ourselves when we do overeat.