Emotions are closely associated with eating. They take part in the decisions we make about what and whenever to consume. Conversely, eating is intricately intertwined with the emotions we now have following a meal. Eating specific types of foods can produce temporary happiness, guilt as well as euphoria. The bond between food and emotion has long been contemplated for hundreds of years. For example, Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, postulates that there are six different tastes, which range from sweet to pungent. Each of these tastes could have an alternative effect not simply on our physical bodies, but in addition on our mental state. Sweet brings calmness and induces love and tenderness. Pungent taste, conversely, promotes motion and helps to make the mind alert. Mind you, having too much of any particular taste would cause serious side effects, so please don't believe that eating plenty of chilli can help you stay focused on that report.
Exactly what does the Western science say about the relationship between emotions as well as the food we eat? Is there indeed an association between the world of physical nutrients as well as the realm of fleeting experiences we call emotions?
Food craving and emotional eating
The recent technology (fMRI) has allowed scientists to have a look at inner workings of the brain under the conditions of intense food cravings. It is often found that brain areas responsible for emotions are actively engaged in the mediation of signals linked to food craving. Particularly, negative emotions that stimulate impulsive food craving are:
fear (insecurity, general anxiety, panic disorders)
tension (stress, frustration, impatience)
and shame (low self-esteem, guilt).
Some pun apparently intended, these four are occasionally called "FATS" feelings (an acronym made from the categories above). Nevertheless, other feeling could also influence eating behaviour, and this doesn't concern negative emotions exclusively. Quite to the contrary, positive emotions also influence food consumption and food cravings. These effects are (a bit of an easy guess this time around) of positive nature according to the food behaviours.
Medical research has demonstrated that emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, and joy have substantial effects on eating patterns during the actual whole process of ingestion. The influence includes the initial motivation to eat, and also the emotional reaction to the meals consumed, selecting specific foods (e.g. full of carbohydrates, salts or protein), and items like the manner of chewing and eating speed. Finally, significant effects are demonstrated in relation to the share of nutrients ingested (!), and also overall metabolism and digestion. The connection between emotions and the digestive process goes also for other feelings, that are thought of as being less intensive and more long-term, such since the previously mentioned low self-esteem.
Research on human subjects has demonstrated that positive and negative feelings might be profoundly different in their effects on food-intake. Negative emotions (the FATS family) are likely to increase energetic food usage, expressed as non-discriminated eating in irregular patterns. They are recognized to correlate with eating as mechanism to deal with negative emotional states. In addition, negative emotions are responsible for the improved consumption of unhealthy food. Interestingly, negative emotions can also be related to decreased gratification derived from eating. Conversely, joy, cheerfulness as well as other positive emotions have a tendency to enhance the overall pleasantness of food. Most significantly, positive states of mind automatically promote better eating behaviours, including the choice of healthier foods.
Different intensity provokes different effects
Besides the "valence" of emotions (positive vs. negative), the concentration of the emotional state is also essential in determining the effect on eating, including food cravings. As an illustration, high arousal emotions, such as fear or anger, suppress eating, which can be explained by incompatible emotional responses please do not think about this as your diet option, though).
If we consider emotions which have low intensity, like boredom or sadness, their effect usually involves increased eating, even though exact mechanism of causality of this effect differs along with the motivation you can eat. For example, in the example of people who diet (restrained eaters) the rise in food consumption is related to weakening with the cognitive charge of behaviour because of negative emotions.
It seems that the ancient yogis were right regarding the emotional results of food, despite the fact that they appear to have neglected to prove their theory statistically. Food-related motions are strong determinants of which foods we have been choosing to have. Consequently, try to consider something positive next time there is a meal. In fact, it's not necessarily all in the mind.