Emotions are closely related to eating. They take part in the decisions we make by what and when to consume. On the other hand, eating is intricately intertwined with all the emotions we have following a meal. Eating specific types of foods can produce temporary happiness, guilt or even euphoria. The connection between food and emotion has been contemplated for hundreds of years. For example, Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, postulates there are six different tastes, which range from sweet to pungent. Each of these tastes would have a different effect not merely on our physical bodies, but also on our state of mind. Sweet brings calmness and induces love and tenderness. Pungent taste, on the other hand, promotes action and helps make the mind alert. Mind you, having too much of any particular taste would cause serious unwanted effects, so you shouldn't imagine that eating lots of chilli will help you stay focused on that report.
Exactly what does the Western science say concerning the relationship between emotions as well as food we eat? Can there be indeed an association between the field of physical nutrients and also the realm of short lived experiences we call emotions?
Food craving and emotional eating
The recent technology (fMRI) has allowed scientists to have a look at inner workings from the brain under the conditions of intense food cravings. It has been found that brain areas accountable for emotions are actively participating in the mediation of signals linked to food cravings. Particularly, negative emotions that stimulate impulsive food cravings are:
fear (insecurity, general anxiety, panic disorders)
tension (stress, frustration, impatience)
and shame (low self-esteem, guilt).
Some pun apparently intended, these four are now and again called "FATS" feelings (an acronym produced from the categories above). Nevertheless, other feeling might also influence eating behaviour, which doesn't concern negative emotions exclusively. Quite to the contrary, positive emotions also have an impact on food consumption and food cravings. These effects are (a bit of an easy guess this time) of positive nature according to our food behaviours.
Medical research indicates that emotions for instance anger, fear, sadness, and joy have substantial effects on eating patterns during the whole procedure for ingestion. The influence includes the original motivation to eat, along with the emotional response to the foods consumed, the choice of specific foods (e.g. high in carbs, salts or protein), and things like the manner of chewing and eating speed. Finally, significant effects have been exhibited in relation to the share of nutrients ingested (!), as well as overall metabolic process and digestion. The relationship between emotions and the digestive process goes also for other feelings, that happen to be regarded as being less intensive and more long-term, such as the earlier mentioned low self-esteem.
Research on human subjects has demonstrated that negative and positive feelings may be profoundly different within their effects on food-intake. Negative emotions (the FATS family) often increase impulsive food intake, expressed as non-discriminated eating in irregular patterns. They are known to correlate with eating as mechanism to cope with negative emotional states. Furthermore, negative emotions are responsible for the improved consumption of junk food. Interestingly, negative emotions will also be associated with decreased gratification derived from eating. Conversely, joy, cheerfulness as well as other positive emotions tend to improve the overall pleasantness of food. Most importantly, positive states of mind automatically promote better eating behaviours, including a choice of healthier foods.
Different intensity provokes different effects
Aside from the "valence" of emotions (positive vs. negative), the concentration of the emotional state can also be essential in determining the result on eating, including food craving. For instance, high arousal emotions, for example fear or anger, suppress eating, which is often explained by incompatible emotional responses please do not think about this as your diet option, though).
If we consider emotions which have low intensity, such as boredom or sadness, their effect usually involves increased eating, even though the exact mechanism of causality of this effect differs along with the motivation to eat. As an example, with regards to individuals who diet (restrained eaters) the rise in food consumption is associated with weakening from the cognitive control of behaviour due to negative emotions.
It seems that the ancient yogis were right in regard to the emotional effects of food, even though they seem to have neglected to prove their theory statistically. Food-related motions are strong determinants of which foods we are choosing to consume. Therefore, try to consider something positive next time there is a meal. In fact, it isn't all inside the mind.