A recent CNN story explored the science behind emotional eating. Specifically, the study in reflection examined why some people gravitate to fatty or sugary foods when feeling emotionally “under the weather”. How the study worked is patients were tube fed patients particular nutrients (in this case saturated fat vs a saline solution) while they watched sad faces or listened to sad music. The saturated fat seemed to result in the most upbeat reactions (post-negative stimuli). See the article for more on how these reactions were measured. The article underlines that this research suggests a biological component to emotional eating. The biological mechanism is not understood, but suggests a relationship between the stomach, brain, and hormone stimulation that moves us towards certain nutrients.
The following piece of the article intrigued me specifically:
“The deep-seated connection between our stomachs and our brains helped keep humans alive when food was scarce (as it was during most of human history), but it may have outlived its usefulness and may be contributing to modern health problems such as obesity, Van Oudenhove adds.
‘Evolution has made every aspect of feeding as rewarding as possible,” he says. “These days it may not be a good thing anymore. When food is available anywhere, then it may be a bad thing, leading to obesity or eating disorders in some people.’
The study drives home just how difficult it can be to eat healthy and resist so-called emotional eating in our stressful world, says Susan Albers, Psy.D., a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and the author of “50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food.””
At this point, I was just really hoping that the article wasn’t going to end up blaming food and biology entirely for food-related behavior. Fortunately, it did not:
“Therapy or other treatments that ‘teach people how to deal with strong emotions would likely…help people improve their eating habits,’ she (Susan Albers) says.”
Thank you! (Cheering from Creating Peace with Food). “Would likely”, in my opinion, is not accurate enough though. Therapy and other treatments that help people work through strong emotions without food DOES help people improve their eating habits. I am a blessed eyewitness of this change in our clients every day! Whether a client is coping with strong emotions by restricting or over-eating food, introducing new coping mechanisms and developing healthy eating habits together has been a success for our clients time and time again.
Don’t get me wrong, I think this research about the biological connection with emotional eating is imperative for our society’s understanding of emotional eating. This will only help us and our clients more. At the same time, I am grateful that the ability for a person to change their behaviors was somewhat mentioned. Regardless of the biological component of emotional eating being fully understood or not, people can and do change their behaviors daily. Food is not an exception and with a little support and guidance, success can be achieved in this area of health and well-being.
I encourage you to read this articleand post comments if you have them. Be informed about this article for in the case that someone you know says something along the lines of, “oh well, I can’t do anything about it; it’s just the way my biological makeup is,” you will know how to respond with another perspective. 🙂
Article Source linked above: http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/07/25/study.clues.emotional.eating/index.html