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Wellness Wake-Up Call: Hooked On a Feeling

Wellness Wake-Up Call: Hooked On a Feeling image

Even people who aren't food addicts may have unhealthy relationships with certain foods.

Do you eat because you are hungry, or is something else inspiring you to open the refrigerator?   Americans refer to some of the unhealthiest food available- from cakes and pies to macaroni and cheese- as " comfort food," and their consumption has more to do with emotions than nutrition. 

Some people eat comfort foods when they are depressed, but comfort eating happens just as often to maintain an already good mood.

According to the Food and Brand Lab at the University of Illinois, ice cream is the top comfort food in America for both men and women.  For women, chocolate  and cookies follow close behind.  Men's second choice is usually pizza, steak or casserole. 


An American Demographics report found that specific foods are often linked to  specific moods.  When people are happy, 32 percent of the time they will emotionally eat with foods like steak or pizza.  Sad people reach for ice cream and cookies 39 percent of the time, and 36 percent of people who are bored favor potato chips. 


Emotional eating is about feeding a feeling rather than real hunger. For an emotional eater, the desire for food is triggered by something psychological rather than physical. Evolution is partially responsible. 


Since the beginning of time, evolution has made everything about eating as rewarding as possible.  At least one 2011 study examines the connection between volunteers' stomachs and brains, suggesting that hormones in our stomachs appear to communicate directly with our brains- independent of any feelings we have about a particular food. 


In the study, performed at the University of Leuven in Belgium, volunteers were fed through unmarked feeding tubes.  In a series of tests performed after participants were fed, those who received saturated fat appeared to fend off negative emotions more easily than those who didn't receive saturated fat.


Lukas Van Oudenhove, M.D., one of the researchers, suggests that the deep-seated connection between our stomachs and brains- which keep humans alive throughout most of history- may have outlived its usefulness.

"These days it may not be a good thing anymore," Van Oudenhove said.  "When food is available anywhere, then it may be a bad thing, leading to obesity or eating disorders in some people."


While there's nothing wrong with the occasional comfort food, the problem lies when people lose self-control and self discipline - and don't resist the temptation to feed an emotional need or discomfort with food.  Physcial hunger comes on graduallyt, but emotional hunger is sudden.  It's al about filling a void rather than an empty stomach.  Emotional eaters crave specific food, like pizza or ice cream - and only that food will satisfy the need. 


While someone feeling physiocal hunger can wait to eat, emotional hunger demands immmediate satisfaction, and it is difficult to stop eating even if your stomach is full.  Although emotional eating is about fulfilling a feeling, the eater often feels guilt at the end, rather than being satisfied. 


Sound familiar?