Psychology of Eating

The psychology of eating is a relatively new field that seeks to understand our relationship with food. Some researchers believe that the body metabolizes food differently according to our thoughts and as a response to stress, either imagined or real. Some believe we actually absorb nutrients more effectively when we’re in a positive frame of mind.

In other words, thoughts, senses and emotions such as guilt and shame are related to physiological responses that include not only appetite for food, but thirst, sex drive, body temperature, blood pressure and heart rate.

Food, Emotions and Disordered Eating

Food is a fundamental human activity that does much more than fill our tummies and fuel our bodies. Eating affects how we feel physically, mentally and emotionally. Overeating, emotional eating or eating too little can all negatively affect our health and wellbeing.

Eating is often a positive experience that is an integral part of nearly every culture. Our feelings about food and eating are influenced by many factors, including our evolutionary and genetic makeup. Additionally, we are influenced by what our families ate and what we enjoyed as children, by social eating habits of our friends and other people we spend time with, and by what foods are preferred in certain cultures. Of course, every person has specific preferences for various tastes and textures.

Eating problems arise when food is used as a coping strategy to manage negative feelings such as anxiety, boredom or stress. Instead of coping with difficult emotions in healthy ways, the feelings are stuffed down with food, which makes us feel better – for a short time.

Although emotional eating is okay now and then, soothing difficult emotions with food is a dangerous practice that can lead to tremendous guilt and regret, which in turn, triggers a destructive habit of more eating and more guilt feelings. Eating shouldn’t be linked with shame, but it often is.

In time, the body’s natural signals are overridden and people may lose the ability to gauge fullness and hunger.

Treatment for Disordered Eating

Many addiction treatment centers and rehabs offer programs tailored specifically for disordered eating. Treatment can help individuals learn what emotions trigger unhealthy eating patterns. Then, it’s possible to change negative thinking patterns and destructive relationships with food.

Treatment for eating disorders can also help people learn to be more mindful, not in a critical way, but by paying attention and learning how the body feels. Developing a natural, nonjudgmental curiosity about how food affects the body and mind can help people learn to step away from cravings.

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