Most of us tend to think about dietary habits in relation to how they might potentially impact our physical health. However, food psychology is also an important aspect to consider.
Nearly all of us had a time in our lives when we wanted to start eating more healthily. Maybe you were trying to avoid illness. Or perhaps you wanted to get your body beach-ready. On the other hand, maybe you just wanted a better handle on your health.
There are a lot of good reasons to understand food psychology and the psychology behind cravings. When setting weight loss goals, none of us have the luxury of living on a desert island. We all have to deal with the realities of life. We have work, social lives, hobbies, and family commitments. The things we eat interconnect with our daily interactions. There are sometimes donuts at work. Social gatherings often have snacks and alcohol. Visit home and you’re surrounded by nostalgic foods.
In addition, there are a lot of physiological factors contributing to food cravings. Things like our cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and perhaps our weight.
There is a complex interplay between the food we put in our bodies and how it affects our physical health. In the same way, there is a complex interplay between our dietary habits and our mental health.
The number on the scale fluctuating up and down may considerably cause fluctuations in our mood to an unhealthy degree. And it shouldn’t. In this article, we’ll explore these perceptions in more detail.
Food Psychology and Cravings
What we eat throughout the day may inform how we feel throughout the day and vice versa. The psychology of food poses implications for a number of important dietary factors, including:
- The perceptions of our overall body image
- The positivity and negativity of our relationship with food
- The energy we feel throughout the day
- The overall wellness and happiness we feel
In the short term, unhealthy eating habits may serve as a coping mechanism to alleviate stress and negative feelings. But in the long term, these eating habits may do more harm to our mental health than good. (WileyOnline)
While it may result in short-term stress relief, snacking and obsessive eating doesn’t directly address the stressors at hand. In fact, they often worsen your stress with time.
Food obsession can become a trap, and willpower alone won’t release you from its grip.
The Psychology Of Food Addiction
Psychology includes identifying the motivating factors that drive our behaviors. This plays a significant role in dictating our eating habits. These habits include our subconscious cravings for healthy or unhealthy foods.
The correlation between our mental health and our dietary habits is more direct than we realize. To fundamentally change our behavioral patterns, it helps to listen to the words spoken by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung:
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will rule your life and you will call it fate.”
Mindful management of your thoughts and emotions as they relate to food, helps you avoid food dictating your thoughts and emotions. The psychology of food cravings can make that easier said than done.
A number of important social, cultural, generational, and emotional forces guide our relationship with food. If you’d like to better understand your own relationship with it, here are a few food psychology facts to consider:
- We Obsess Over Food When We Want To Lose Weight. This is because we often turn to diets and restrictive eating patterns. So, we think about food all day long: what we should eat, what we shouldn’t eat, what we wish we could eat, how much we think we should eat, etc. This is counterproductive. Instead, we need to change the way we think about food. After all, it’s something that should be enjoyed not obsessed over. This is where my coaching can help.
- We Don’t Immediately Realize When We’re Full: Satiety, the neurological and hormonal signals that we’ve had enough to eat, don’t always instantly set in. For example, if your body is naturally low on the hormone leptin, you may have a bigger appetite than average. But you might also be full more often than you feel full. (Cleveland Clinic) This is why it’s important to take time to let our food rest before a second helping. We need to allow time for our body’s natural signals to kick in.
- Taste Tends To Fade With Time: As we get older, our senses of taste and smell tend to naturally fade as we age. This can pose indirect consequences to our perceptions of our appetite. Our food cravings and the percieved nutritional value of the foods we eat may change as we age. (Mayo Clinic) This is a great time to explore new foods!
- Our Palate Is Influenced By The People Around Us: In life, we tend to retain the most information from the people in our most immediate circle. Our eating habits are no exception. The risk of becoming overweight and eating unhealthily can potentially increase as much as 57% if our loved ones are overweight. (Harvard School Of Public Health) Likewise, when we learn to heal our relationship with food we become a positive impact on those around us.
- Sweeter Foods Can Help You Be A Sweeter Person: Psychology researchers believe that eating sweeter-tasting foods may help people have a sweeter, nicer disposition (ScienceDaily/North Dakota State University). Remember healthier eating habits don’t have to mean quitting your favorite foods altogether. Eating them in moderation is actually beneficial for your mental health.
- The Number On The Scale Doesn’t Indicate Your Physical Health. People can become obsessed with the number on the scale. But it doesn’t directly correlate with your physical health. In fact, constant worry over the number can negatively impact your mental health. I always urge people, in the beginning, to avoid weighing themselves. Anything that causes anxiety around food should be removed to get your food psychology to a healthier place.
- Learning New Habits Take Time, Commitment, And Dedication: Positive eating habit changes won’t happen overnight. Some psychology researchers believe that it could take anywhere between 18 to 254 days to learn new habits (European Journal of Social Psychology). To stay at the lower end of the spectrum, it’s important to find someone who will champion your efforts.
Let’s face it, thinking about how to stop emotional eating forever and ending food obsession is one thing. It’s far easier said than done to put that thinking into practice. But you’ll be all the better for it.
It’s important not to confront negative thoughts and tendencies related to food psychology with self-punishment. This isn’t how you mend your relationship with food into a healthy one. It’s best met with mindful intention, consideration, and compassion that you would wish upon others.
As Thich Nhat Hanh summed up, “Don’t chew your worries, your fear, or your anger. If you chew your planning and your anxiety, it’s difficult to feel grateful for each piece of food. Just chew your food.”
You may think you’ve tried everything to move your relationship with food in a more positive direction. If you’re still discouraged, don’t give yourself a hard time. There are likely still other psychological factors at play.
I’m here to help you find them and help you eat more mindfully with feelings of peace, abundance, liberation, and freedom that deserve to accompany every meal.