August 10, 2011 5:21 AM   Subscribe

I think eating chips makes me feel sad. Is this a thing?

I'm a fairly healthy, fairly active female in my late 20s. A few months back I noticed a correlation between times when I've eaten potato or corn chips and times when I've felt bad, sad, or low about the world. I like chips -- I think they're delicious -- but I hate feeling like, for instance, I'm never going to get a job after grad school, or the guy I'm interested in is never going to want me, or that thing that I did last week was truly embarrassing and memorable for all around, or whatever the low-feeling-du-jour seems to be.

Has anyone ever heard of this? Is this a thing? Is there something in chips (of various brands) that I might be reacting to? Do high fat and salt combos tend to cause emotional reactions? Is it MSG? Or is it all just confirmation bias? I certainly possess the ability to feel low on occasions without eating chips -- but should I continue to avoid them?
posted by monkeymonkey to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe instead of the direction of causation you suggest, it's actually that feeling sad makes you eat chips?

Because that's definitely a thing.
posted by ootandaboot at 5:24 AM on August 10, 2011 [24 favorites]

1) ootandaboot is probably on to something. Are you sure you've properly identified the direction of the causation here? "Comfort foods" are called that for a reason.

2) The mind/body thing is just... weird. It's entirely normal for certain sensations, be they songs, smells, tastes, whatever, or combinations thereof, to provoke emotional reactions. A lot of the time this is because you were doing something memorable when you had that sensation, so experiencing it again invokes that something. For example, Beck's Mellow Gold is, for me, forever linked to the video game Dungeon Siege, because I was listening to the former when I played the latter, and a particular recording of Frank Herbert's Dune goes with a particular family vacation.

Southern Comfort has... other associations. Which is just one of the many reasons why I don't drink it anymore.
posted by valkyryn at 5:27 AM on August 10, 2011

And because the reverse direction is a thing, perhaps you associate the two together resulting in you feeling sad when eating chips.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:29 AM on August 10, 2011

Carbs (well, that type of carbs) make me tired. I can easily imagine that for some people tired would = sad. Also, are you (even a little bit) trying to lose weight? Or have you ever made an effort to cut out junk food? If so, the thought that "oops, I screwed up and ate a bad thing, now I have that much further to go" can make you feel pretty hopeless.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:31 AM on August 10, 2011

I agree that it might be a causal relationship. I tend to crave super salty things (like chips) during the part of my cycle where I feel a little down and shitty. So maybe your hormones are both making you feel down and making you crave chips.
posted by katypickle at 5:37 AM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I once worked for a Boss from Hell (TM) who would buy (with university funds) potato chips and ice cream for the office every time she felt guilty for doing something particularly assholish. I get pissed off just thinking about her. I haven't really come across the combination of potato chips and ice cream since then, but I imagine that if I did, I'd feel pissed off. So maybe there's a potato chip association somewhere way back there; as valkyryn notes, associations are weird sometimes.

Or maybe it's just that the salt makes you a little dehydrated? IANAD, but dehydration is not a good thing metabolically...
posted by lily_bart at 5:50 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't eat a lot of salty snacks (sweets are my thing), and I don't even like potato chips, but usually once or twice a year I'll get a crazy craving for barbecue chips. So I go get myself a bag of barbecue chips. And then I proceed to eat the whole bag.

It never makes me feel sad, but it always, like DestinationUnknown, makes me feel logy and tired. And then the fact that I'm completely useless for the rest of the day (and usually have salty food hangover the next morning)--and that it's all my doing--is really frustrating. I can easily see how that could translate into sadness for someone who already has nagging thoughts floating through her head.

The chips have a completely different effect on me than, say, cookies or ice cream (which I eat a ton of). If I eat too much cake, I'll feel full and sluggish, but not in a way that makes me feel mentally shut down, too.
posted by phunniemee at 5:52 AM on August 10, 2011

The "Twinkie Defence" employed by Dan White's lawyers in his trial for the murder of George Moscone and Harvey Milk argued that White's consumption of junk food was a symptom of depression; as outandaboot argues above there may be some confusion as to cause and effect.
posted by alby at 6:02 AM on August 10, 2011

I came in to say what katypickle said about omg-carbs-NOW caused by the same thing as the weird, bloody dreams, anxiety, and depression (and also, of course, leaking blood). Science has a long way yet to come with fixing this nonsense!
posted by anaelith at 6:06 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

In addition to depression making people crave junk, there's often the letdown of the junk not being satisfying enough to make you feel that much better, plus the guilty feeling of having eaten a bunch of junk, and on top of that it's all gone and you kind of want more.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:18 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Stuff with sugar or high fructose corn syrup can easily send my emotions into a tailspin. HFCS appears in some surprising things.... Like Pizza. Having a pizza crash is no fun. My GF crashes on lots of carbs. So yeah, quite posible in my opinion.
posted by Jacen at 6:21 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

It could be an allergic reaction to an ingredient common to both. A type of oil, or lecithin, for example.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:40 AM on August 10, 2011

This happens to me. It also happens with french fries. Eating either with protein helps. I've found that I'm really susceptible to anxiety and general malaise after eating simple carbohydrates and now use LoseIt on the iPhone to monitor sugar/carbohydrate consumption. I try to keep carbohydrates under 150 and sugars under 50 grams, most days, or as often as possible. It took me a long time to get through the chicken and the egg aspect of the question, but I'm now positive it's the simple carbohydrates and it just happens that on a lot of occasions I'll consume those when I'm down, but they can also take a perfectly good mood and wreck it.

I've found it hard to get reliable info on this, but for example, Mr. Llama can't eat fat. If he puts butter on corn on the cob, he feels ill for hours. I think people's bodies are good or bad at processing different things and it's really a trick to learn how yours operates.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:32 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes, fats and salts and glutamates could affect your mood.

Some fats produce inflammatory or insulin responses during metabolization. Sodium is an essential neurotransmitter transporter. Some glutamates are neurotransmitters.

So, at least hypothetically, your bag of chips could be a bit of a magical mystery tour, particularly if you're sensitive or hyper-reactive to some of the ingredients.

If you really wanted you could go through the ingredients one by one, buy other foods that have each ingredient in, and see whether they make you sad. But your best tactic might be to just listen to your body. If chips make you feel bad, don't eat them.
posted by Ahab at 7:50 AM on August 10, 2011

This sounds like it could be the 'comedown' after the quick energy you get from fast-release carbs (such as potato chips). Your blood sugar gets a boost while you eat the chips but then the body's insulin response kicks in to blunt it, often overcompensating and leaving you feeling even lower than you started. This will depend on your body, the type of carbs and what your regular diet is, but personally speaking I often experience low mood shortly after a fast-carby meal or snack.

Does a similar thing happen if you eat chocolate or other candy, or drink a sugary soda?
posted by ChristopherS at 9:18 AM on August 10, 2011

Or maybe it's just that the salt makes you a little dehydrated?

This is my theory, too. Next time you eat chips, pound a pint or two of water and see if you feel less sad.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:39 AM on August 10, 2011

I've been averaging about a pound a day of corn chips for the last few months (Que Pasa & Crunchitos), and I think I've noticed something very similar.

I attribute it to the oils. Omega-6 oils are pro-inflammatory, and the lowest omega-6 commonly used frying oil out there, canola, still has a 2:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3; corn oil is essentially devoid of omega-3s.

Too bad nobody uses beef tallow any more. There is an olive oil fried chip available now, however, and its flavor is outstandingly good-- and its price outstandingly high.
posted by jamjam at 10:21 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Adding on to jamjam's answer, inflammation causes or worsens pretty much all the "diseases of civilization" from heart disease and obesity to depression and anxiety. So, the oils from the chips could definitely be contributing here - even if maybe in more a long-term fashion than acutely.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:51 PM on August 10, 2011

Does a similar thing happen if you eat chocolate or other candy, or drink a sugary soda?

Sometimes I notice fatigue after a sugary spike, but I've never really noticed an associated emotional low, which is why the chip thing seems so odd to me.

I'd thought of ootandaboot's suggestion, but if I've had this response to chips in a range of social situations that I genuinely enjoy, like summer picnics or after volleyball, so I feel like it must be more than a reversal of cause and effect here -- hence my suspicion of confirmation bias.

I appreciate all the responses and the helpful links, you helpful Mefites, which I'll look into further. For now simply not eating chips is working just fine, but if it is something more than just mental I'd sure like to figure out what it is.
posted by monkeymonkey at 1:15 PM on August 10, 2011

Chips never deliver on their promises of happiness. Plus, I think there are a lot of sad things chips are associated with. They make me think of poverty, trash, fatness, waste, childhood greed and childhood awkwardness, dirty hands...I may never eat chips again....
posted by kitcat at 7:54 PM on August 10, 2011

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