Emotions and plate: how do our feelings influence the way we eat?

[Article updated on 19/09/2023]

L’emotional eating is a concept widely studied in the field of psychology and nutrition. This is the behavior of eating in response to emotions rather than physical hunger. In this article, I will list the different facets of this phenomenon and understand how emotions influence the way we consume food.

Before reading on

I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.

The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.

The mechanisms of emotional eating

Over the years, several studies have been carried out to understand the neurobiological and cognitive processes involved in the interaction between emotions and food. Two main mechanisms are highlighted:

  1. The hedonic reward : The brain releases dopamine in response to pleasant stimuli, such as eating tasty food. This neurotransmitter provides a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction, leading some people to eat more to compensate for negative emotions.
  2. Inhibitory control : The brain’s executive functions are responsible for regulating eating behavior by exerting control over impulses, such as the urge to eat. Intense emotions can disrupt these control mechanisms, leading to episodes of emotional eating.

The different emotions and their impact on eating

It is important to emphasize that not all emotions have the same effect on our eating behavior. Certain emotional states can promote food consumption, while others can decrease it.

Positive emotions and diet

Positive emotions, such as joy, love or excitement, are often associated with moments of sharing and conviviality around food. These pleasant feelings can encourage us to eat more to prolong the pleasure we feel. However, it is also possible that some people react differently and are less interested in food when they experience positive emotions.

girl in the bathtub holding a white ceramic cup

Negative emotions and diet

Negative emotions, such as sadness, anger, anxiety or stress, tend to trigger compulsive eating behaviors in some people. We then speak of “nibbling” or “binge eating”. Research has shown that individuals with mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder are particularly vulnerable to these impulsive food-related behaviors.

Some examples of situations where emotions influence eating

Certain circumstances of daily life can highlight the link between emotions and food:

  • Festive meals : During parties and celebrations, it is common to see people overeating. The joy and excitement felt during these moments encourages greater food consumption than usual.
  • Stress at work : Stressful work situations can lead to a compulsive need to eat to relieve anxiety and feel better. This is an emotional compensation mechanism.
  • Loneliness : Some people experience a feeling of emptiness when alone and seek to fill this gap by eating more, especially comfort foods such as chocolate or pastries.

How to manage emotional eating?

To counter the harmful effects of emotional eating on our physical and mental health, here are some useful tips:

  1. Become aware of your emotions : Identifying the emotions felt when we feel the need to eat allows us to establish a link between these feelings and our eating behavior.
  2. Find alternatives to manage your emotions : Instead of turning to food to soothe our emotions, it is recommended to try relaxing activities, such as meditation, yoga, reading or listening to music.
  3. Eat mindfully : Practicing mindfulness during meals allows us to better savor food and recognize the satiety signals sent by our body.
  4. Adopt a balanced and varied diet : Good nutrition helps regulate our emotions and strengthens our general well-being.

In short, emotional eating is a complex phenomenon that demonstrates that our relationship with food goes beyond simple physiological needs. Understanding this link between emotions and food can help us adopt healthier eating habits and improve our quality of life.