Do you always celebrate with food?

When I landed my first job, my boyfriend and I went out for Chinese food. My engagement? A meal of mussels and wine.

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When I landed my first job, my boyfriend and I went out for Chinese food. My engagement? A meal of mussels and wine. My wedding? Champagne, of course. My first child’s birth? Toast with peanut butter. Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t count—it was just the first thing offered to me after almost 17 hours of not eating and then giving birth, so by that point, it tasted like Foie gras to me.  

As it does with so many people, food tends to somehow just materialize when life’s celebratory moments hit. How many parties have you been to that have been appetizer-less or a drink or two wasn’t encouraged? And while intense happiness is really good for the soul, it’s not necessarily always good for the bod. So shows a study from the Journal of Consumer Research which links a positive mood boost and the lowering of our inhibitions and resistance to temptation. The study, done through Indianapolis-based Indiana University, found that those in positive moods who then experienced a mood boost—say they just watched a really great movie, or welcomed some happy news–were more prone to selecting a less healthy snack (in this case M&Ms) over grapes. So it wasn’t just the happy mood that led to making the less healthy decision, but the extra hit of happiness or intensity of happiness, that ultimately led to the doomed snack selection.

Now, in looking back over my own life’s celebratory moments, I’m not necessarily regretting the things I ate, nor suggesting you keep the cork on the Veuve Clicquot for your own celebrations. But I am wondering—is this just how happiness is? Do life’s great events always come with a side of fries or pie? I asked Dr. Kimberly Sogge, the Ottawa-based chief of psychology professional practice at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group about this connection.

“It’s not necessarily wrong that food is associated with celebratory events,” says Dr. Sogge. “But if it’s an automatic pattern around the food, so we’re not moving ourselves closer to a more satisfying life, we’re just caught up in this “reactive pattern” of eating, we might be using the food as a way to regulate ourselves.” Instead, she suggests that sure we enjoy the sensory pleasures of the food, but not to engage in the compulsive behaviour around it. “And it’s very easy to revert to that early training of using food to regulate the intensity of the experience,” she says. “So what we should do is focus on the sensory pleasure of the food, but not lose the real experience of the food.”

That means be present when celebrating, slow down and maybe let the good vibes wear off a bit first if you can before you tuck into a fabulous meal or open that bottle of wine. Happiness is good but it can quickly melt into regret the next morning if you’ve tipped back a bit too much Sauvignon the night before.

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