Emotions are closely related to eating. They take part in the decisions we make about what and when to consume. However, eating is intricately intertwined with the emotions we have after having a meal. Eating specific sorts of foods can produce temporary happiness, guilt or even euphoria. The bond between food and emotion was contemplated since way back when. As an example, Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, postulates that we now have six different tastes, which range from sweet to pungent. Each one of these tastes could have some other effect not merely on our physical bodies, but in addition on our mental state. Sweet brings calmness and induces love and tenderness. Pungent taste, in contrast, promotes actions and makes the mind alert. Furthermore, having too much of any particular taste would cause serious side effects, so please don't reckon that eating plenty of chilli will help you stay focused on that report.
What does the Western science say about the relationship between emotions and the food we eat? Perhaps there is indeed a link between the world of physical nutrients and also the realm of fleeting experiences we call emotions?
Food craving and emotional eating
The recent technology (fMRI) has allowed scientists to take a look at inner workings of the brain under the conditions of intense food cravings. It has been found that brain areas accountable for emotions are actively taking part in the mediation of signals associated with food cravings. In particular, 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 now and again called "FATS" thoughts (an acronym created from the categories above). Nevertheless, other feeling may also influence eating behaviour, and this doesn't concern negative emotions exclusively. Quite on the contrary, positive emotions also have an effect on food consumption and food craving. These effects are (a bit of an easy guess this time) of positive nature according to our food behaviours.
Medical research has shown that emotions for instance anger, fear, sadness, and joy have substantial effects on eating patterns during the actual whole procedure for ingestion. The influence includes the first motivation to eat, along with the emotional reaction to the foodstuffs consumed, the choice of specific foods (e.g. high in carbohydrates, salts or protein), and items like the manner of chewing and eating speed. Finally, significant effects are exhibited in relation to the share of nutrients ingested (!), in addition to overall metabolism and digestion. The relationship between emotions and also the digestive process goes also for other feelings, which are regarded as being less intensive and more long-term, such since the earlier mentioned low self-esteem.
Research on human subjects has demonstrated that good and bad feelings could possibly be profoundly different in their effects on food-intake. Negative emotions (the FATS family) have a tendency to increase impulsive food usage, expressed as non-discriminated eating in irregular patterns. They are known to correlate with eating as mechanism to cope with negative emotional states. In addition, negative emotions are responsible for the improved consumption of unhealthy foods. Interestingly, negative emotions are also related to decreased gratification derived from eating. Alternatively, joy, cheerfulness and other positive emotions tend to enhance the overall pleasantness of food. Most importantly, positive states of mind automatically promote better eating behaviours, including the option of healthier foods.
Different intensity provokes different effects
Besides the "valence" of emotions (positive vs. negative), the intensity of the emotional state is also important in determining the result on eating, including food craving. As an illustration, high arousal emotions, for example fear or anger, suppress eating, which may be explained by incompatible emotional responses please do not think about this as your diet option, though).
If we consider emotions that have low intensity, such as boredom or sadness, their effect usually involves increased eating, even though exact mechanism of causality of this effect differs combined with motivation you can eat. As an example, with regards to individuals who diet (restrained eaters) the increase in food consumption is related to weakening from the cognitive power over behaviour due to negative emotions.
It seems that the ancient yogis were right in regards to the emotional results of food, even though they appear to have neglected to prove their theory statistically. Food-related motions are strong determinants of which foods we are choosing to eat. Therefore, try to consider something positive next time you have a meal. In fact, it's not necessarily all in the mind.