Exploring our Emotional Connection with food: Why we make the choices we do

Exploring our Emotional Connection with food: Why we make the choices we do

This subject comes up time and time again with my clients when they want to make better choices. It’s clear that food and emotions are intimately linked in our daily lives. Most of these patterns were laid down in childhood by well-meaning parents – passed on to them by their parents. If food was scarce then eating everything on your plate was important, likewise, many of us were rewarded or pacified with chocolate or other treats.

The problem is, in the UK, the availability and abundance of food and choices of what to consume are such that we are greatly removed from eating solely for sustenance and nutrition. We used to think that a food craving meant we needed that particular food group – that our bodies needed the nutritional content of the food – but now we know our cravings are not a barometer of our bodies’ particular needs. Instead, a craving is often attached to an emotional need.

Our physical need for food is taken care of with little effort, therefore we find we turn to certain foods to satisfy our emotional needs. Whether that’s seeking comfort, as a stress relief, or a reward, our emotions can significantly influence the food choices we make. 

In this article, I am going to be exploring our emotional connection with food – aka emotional eating – focusing on the various emotions that drive us to consume specific foods.

One of the first steps in taking back control of what we eat and making good choices is bringing awareness to how we currently eat.

Emotional Eating Comfort Food

Letting emotions dictate what we eat

Some individuals turn to food as a coping mechanism to soothe heightened emotions, while others may use it as a means of escape from stressful situations. Exploring the psychology behind emotional food choices can help us understand why we crave specific dishes during challenging times.

Comfort Food: Seeking Emotional Solace

When we experience moments of sadness, loneliness, or nostalgia, we often seek solace in comfort foods. These dishes bring back fond memories, often of childhood, and provide a sense of security and comfort. The problem here is that much comfort food is typically high in sugar or carbs.

Stress Eating

Stress has a serious impact on our eating habits. When we are in a state of stress, we fall into a chain reaction of behaviours that can negatively affect our eating habits. We may lack the time or motivation to prepare nutritious, balanced meals, or may skip or forget to eat meals altogether – reaching for processed and high-sugar foods for a quick fix or energy boost.

Rewarding and celebrating with food

Food is frequently intertwined with celebration and reward. Whether it’s commemorating an accomplishment or indulging in a guilty pleasure, the act of consuming specific foods becomes a form of self-reward.

This is not a problem unless this becomes too frequent – we can find lots of reasons to ‘celebrate’ or ‘reward’ ourselves; perhaps with a takeaway at the end of the week, getting through a stressful day, winning a new client, on top of special occasions.

Boredom Eating

In moments of boredom or monotony, the desire to eat can arise as a means of filling an emotional void. Maybe your work day has started to drag or your daily routine has become mundane so you reach for some biscuits, a piece of cake or a chocolate bar in the afternoon – it’s something to fill a void. The problem with boredom eating is a lack of eating awareness. We eat without thinking so we rarely remember what we have eaten.

Emotional Eating The Connection of Pleasure

Food and Joy: The Connection of Pleasure

The experience of pleasure and food is undeniably intertwined. The sharing of food has always been part of the human story. Sitting around a table as a family or community and sharing food brings us closer, and builds connection.

The taste of food gives us pleasure – an exquisitely cooked piece of meat, a tomato picked from the garden or a well-baked cake – we get pleasure out of these things. 

There is nothing wrong with this, and we should get pleasure out of our food and eating. Yet if we only associate food with joy and get more pleasure from consuming sweet foods, or meat for instance, we may not choose to eat the variety of food which our bodies need.

Understanding the emotions that drive our food choices can empower us to develop a healthier relationship with food. By recognising our emotional triggers and implementing mindful eating practices, we can make conscious decisions about what we eat, fostering a balanced and nourishing connection between our emotions and food.

How do we do this?

If I asked you what you have eaten in the last 24 hours I expect you might remember the main meal of the day, but little else – you will probably forget the snacks and drinks. Keeping a food diary can help bring awareness to what we consume, and more importantly why.

Keeping a food diary

A food diary is a tool to record, what you eat, how you feel when you’re eating and what you are doing while you’re eating.

Keeping a food diary will help you get a better understanding of what you eat and why, bringing a greater understanding of your choices and actions.

Other ways to combat emotional eating

There are several ways to combat emotional eating other than keeping a food diary, including:

  • If stress is a trigger, find healthy ways to manage your stress.
  • Don’t keep unhealthy snacks in the house.
  • Instead of snacking when bored do something different – take a walk, or exercise – movement often shifts our mindset.
  • Talk to someone – if you are feeling down, get help whether that’s from friends and family or a trained professional.

Emotional eating habits are not always easy to recognise or break. I work with women to overcome these issues and support them in healthy and nutritional eating habits.

If you are interested in gaining support with your emotional connection with food and want to gain control of your emotional eating, feel free to reach out to me via my Facebook page here.

Published by daniatrapani

I believe in teaching, educating and making people aware of their health, diet and lifestyle choices. I encourage my clients to understand the importance of a healthy diet as well as a balanced lifestyle in order to achieve optimum results. Each of my clients is treated as an individual and I combine a mixture of nutrition and naturopathy to create a tailored health programme.

%d bloggers like this: