Yes, it is true, the food we eat is intertwined with our emotions, there be it, our mental health.
What we eat can change our behavior, mood, and change our moral outlook.
We develop a personal relationship with food, influencing relationships we have with ourselves, society, and each other.
Of course, I could write an entire book on our upbringing, culture, and accessibility to food that affects our daily lives, but an excellent book is available, Why You Eat What You Eat by Rachel Herz.
However, this week, let’s examine how food can influence your state of mind and why.
What do you usually crave? Does it depend on what time of day it is? Could it depend on what you have already eaten?
There is a reason why folks who put themselves on food restrictions, aka dieting, are less likely to succeed.
By depriving themselves of food, it causes them to think about food all the time, which leads to fantasizing about food…which leads to cravings.
Cravings are a mental game with food…and the odds are stacked in “foods” favor.
In Rachel’s book, she explains how cravings are just “elaborated intrusions.”
We associate certain foods with memories and emotions about that food.
Typically, it is the food we really enjoy and makes us feel good.
Then, we start to associate that food and emotionally feeling positive.
Which, of course, makes us want such food even more because we want to feel happy.
Grandma’s fried chicken, chocolate, sweet treats; all could trigger memories of a happier time, which our gastromy intuition says…let’s have some for a happy experience.
How can you win against a craving? Distract Yourself & Your Mind
Fight fire with fire…if food wants to play a mental game with us, then we can fight by steering our attention away from the food.
As reported in Live Science, hedonic hunger – dwelling on food, or craving particular foods – only occurs with highly palatable foods. “People want to eat even when they don’t need to. And the more often people eat highly palatable foods, the more their brains learn to expect and want them, he said. You can call that hunger, but the reason for that “hungry” feeling appears to have much more to do with seeking pleasure than with needing calories.
It is not just the thought of a particular food triggering memory, our sense of smell plays a significant role in our mental relationship with food.
In the Oxford Handbook of Social Neuroscience, Dr. R.S. Herz found, “the reason memories triggered by scent are so emotionally intense is that our sense of smell is uniquely, directly, and intimately linked to the parts of our brain where emotion, memory, and motivation are processed; the amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus.”
These areas of the brain form associations between our sense of smell and how we feel.
When we crave comfort foods, it is not because we failed to satisfy our physical hunger, it is because these foods satisfy our psychological hunger.
Sense of Taste
Have you ever ate a restaurant and actually said, “that is the best tasting (fill in the blank) I have ever had?
Could it have been because you were STARVING when you finally ate whatever that best tasting food was?
Depriving yourself of food, whether it be for a diet, fasting, or restrictive eating can make sensors in your tongue and digestive system hypersensitive, influencing your mental reaction during consumption of food.
Ironically, research shows, if you only eat a bite or two, instead of the whole meal, your mental association will be suppressed.
Try an experiment: avoid one of your most cherished favorite foods for a month.
After the month has passed, try the food, but only allow yourself, one or two bites.
Allow another month to pass. Eat the food again.
Does it taste as good as after the first month? I bet it doesn’t.
Is it your mind or your stomach that says your full?
The food we eat must first make it to our stomach, which releases satiety hormones, in turn, sends messages to the brain to tell us we are full.
Research says this takes about 20 minutes.
This is why you should eat slowly and take your time eating.
Trigger those hormones before your overindulge.
Consider what time of day you are eating.
Studies suggest we feel less satiated by whatever we eat later in the day than we feel from eating that same food earlier.
This is why eating breakfast is typically recommended by dietitians, it fills you up more than the same calories would if eating later, so hopefully, you will eat less during the course of the day.
What matters most, the more hungry you feel, the more you will eat – which is not good for your health.
Cooking at home
With my blog, I try to encourage you to cook at home as much as possible, not only for eating more healthy, but it is also better for your mental health.
Cooking at home makes eating more ritualistic.
Rituals increase food pleasure because we are more personally involved with our food.
It makes us more mindful of what we are eating.
In France, where obesity rates are low, food consumption is highly ritualized.
Eating on the run is virtually non-existent.
Food preparation gives us a sense of pride and pleasure.
Eating at home makes us much more conscientious about what we are eating, how much we consume, and how we feel after eating.
Try to make healthy choices when it comes to food.
And know how your mind and body are affected by your food choices.
Everyone is different. Knowing how your senses and psychology alter your experience with food and consequences is power!
That power can alter your health for a lifetime.
Turkey Meatballs in a wine sauce
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 1 Tbsp milk
- 1/8 tsp ground thyme
- 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and julienned
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and julienned
- 1/8 tsp Kosher salt
- 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 lb ground raw turkey
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 2 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp granulated chicken bouillon
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- Fresh parsley for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350ºF.
- Spray a shallow baking dish or sheet pan with non-stick cooking spray.
- In a mixing bowl combine egg, bread crumbs, 1/4 cup of chopped onions, milk, thyme, salt, and pepper. Add the turkey. Mix well. Shape mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Place meatballs on the prepared pan.
- Bake, uncovered, for approximately 30-35 minutes, or until they register 160º F. Turn the meatballs halfway through baking time.
- While meatballs are cooking, lightly spray a large, nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Add bell peppers and remaining onion. Cook until tender, which should take about 10-15 minutes.
- Mix cornstarch, bouillon granules, and cold water in a separate bowl until no white is visible and is smooth.
- Stir cornstarch mixture into skillet with peppers. Using a whisk, cook and stir until thick and bubbly. Stir in cooked meatballs and wine.
- Continue cooking until meatballs reach 165º stirring occasionally.
- Garnish with chopped parsley.
- Ideally served over hot egg noodles or rice.