The emotional brain and how it impacts our eating habits

The emotional brain and how it impacts our eating habits

We all need to eat and drink to sustain our bodies but food also has a bigger role. Eating provides more than just sustenance, it can evoke powerful feelings, thoughts and memories.

Most of us have certain foods that give us comfort when we are ill or in need of it. For me, it has always been warm custard. When I think back I realise that this, along with attention, love and cuddles was what my mother gave me when I was ill as a child. Even now as an adult, I will turn to my comfort food when I’ve had a rough day. Take a moment and think about what foods you turn to when you feel the need for comfort.

When we try to understand why our diet sometimes goes wrong or we hear ourselves saying ‘Why did I eat that!’ it could be linked to our emotions. ‘Emotional eating’ is a term that we have all seen and heard about in the media  over the last decade but what does it involve?

When I looked further into the emotional side of our brains I came across the term ‘ Amygdala hijack’ which was  coined by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. He uses the term to describe emotional responses from people which are immediate and overwhelming, and out of context with the actual situation because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat.

Basically what this comes down to is that a response from the emotional part of our brains makes us pay attention right now, we recognise that this is urgent and we deal with it immediately without stopping to think whether we should do this or not.

So if you have ever found yourself part way through your diet and having eaten foods that you know you shouldn’t have, quickly and without any real thought, it might well be your emotional brain that has decided this for you.

Different personality types will experience this differently and will also handle their response in very different ways.

So what can we do to make sure that this unhelpful pattern of behaviour does not continue? Well, the first step is to recognise when ,where and with whom these events happen. If it has happened once it is likely to happen again. It seems to me the way to start to control this is to recognise it, look at it in detail and prepare your response so you are ready for it when it happens again.

Helen Clarke, Co-Founder DietMaps