The Effect of Music on Mood and Food Choices

Music’s ability to improve mood is well known. It can decrease stress and depression, increase focus, and generally make the listener feel good. It is also associated with helping people control pain, increase calmness, decrease anxiety, and even increase self-esteem. 

Music and Exercise Behavior

Music can also influence behavior.  For example, loud, rhythmic music is an essential component of intense exercise routines such as in a spin class, and can increase the intensity, duration, and even the desirability of exercise.  On the other hand, quiet, soothing music can help people get more out of a yoga or stretch class and enjoy the experience more.  

Music and Food Choices

Similarly, different types of music can impact our mood and behavior when it comes to eating.  Music volume and rate, when higher, is associated with eating more, and vice versa.  The louder the music, the faster the heart rate and general level of arousal which makes people eat more and eat faster.  Loud music is thought to erode a sense of control over food and drink choices.  In restaurants that play loud upbeat music, diners may choose more high sugar, high fat foods to comfort themselves in response to the overstimulating noise.  

Conversely, eating in a relaxed environment with low levels of ambient music might have the opposite effect. Diners, relaxed and with increased self-control, may make wiser, healthier food choices, and perhaps consume less food.  

A Playlist to Make Meal Planning a Success

Would people trying to lose or maintain their weight and make healthy food choices be more successful if they listened to music that enhanced their mood while eating? Most of us have experienced the acute effect music has on lifting our mood, sometimes when we least expect it. A friend going through a very stressful period due to the rapid worsening of a spouse’s health told me how much she depended on music to get her through dinner. “Now that my husband no longer can eat with me, Mr. Mozart has become my dinner companion. Without him, I probably would eat only ice cream for supper, but his music makes eating alone bearable.“

Perhaps a new approach to supporting weight loss should be to use music to enhance better food choices and control over portion sizes. A playlist may be just as effective as a food list in helping people avoid emotional overeating, and is certainly much more entertaining.

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