So we’ve talked a bit about genetics and how our experiences with food throughout life shape our unique food fingerprint.

What are some of the other ways that our psychology influences eating behaviors?

An Introduction to habits. Our brains are naturally designed to form habits. Habits help us by reducing the amount of time and energy we have to spend thinking about what we do. Imagine, for example, driving a car when you first started learning to drive. You had to think about everything. Clutch control was not automatic. But with practice, over time, your brain learned what movements happen in line with what triggers and started to form pathways in your brain. Soon your brain learned the sequence of events that needed to take place to get you from A to B. And now when you get into the car, your brain is free to think about all the other important tasks. you have to do that day. O sing along at full volume to the radio, whatever your personal preference.

Because eating is something we do so often and in so many different situations, food becomes associated with all sorts of things which can then automatically trigger our desire to eat. One example of a common trigger is the time of day when it goes to lunch time. Your body senses this and starts to prepare itself a food by producing the hunger hormone and making your stomach grumble. Eating foods can also become associated with being in a certain place, like having popcorn at the cinema, being with certain people like family Friday night takeaway or doing certain activities.

My personal favourites. Having a couple of biscuits with a cup of tea. Our senses play an important role in triggering us to eat to some types of food, release certain chemicals in our brains when we eat them. And these chemicals, known as endorphins, make us feel good. When this happens, our brain learns very quickly and one to have this positive experience again and again. It learns to associate the sight of smell at that particular food, with that feel good feeling and causes us to experience, desire, or craving for that food. The important thing about habits is that they are automatic by definition. They occur without us being fully aware. So we don’t often stop to ask ourselves how well they’re working for us day to day.

What are you eating?

Habits. Do you notice they tend to happen automatically without you really noticing? Are these automatic habits helping you to take care of your health and well-being? Or might they be getting in the way?

The good news is that whilst habits are very powerful, they also work in quite predictable ways. This means we can use a formula to break unhelpful habits and form new ones. If this sounds like it might be helpful to you, check out our video series on habit. Another way that our brains can form associations with food is through our emotions. Many foods, especially those we affectionately refer to as comfort fields, release those chemicals in our brains called endorphins that make us feel good.

Even if this is just temporary. Eating makes us feel better. And our brains being the natural habit forming machines that they are very quickly learned this. The next time we feel an emotion, our brain knows what to do. It wants food because it knows that food equals feeling good. As this experience is repeated with different foods and in response to different emotions, a series of brain pathways are formed. This happens to all of us.

The specific situations are different depending on our food fingerprint, but the principles are the same. Over time, our response to emotions can become so automatic, we don’t even have to think about it anymore. We feel insert relevant emotion and before you know it, our brain has set in motion all the pathways that are needed to be activated to get you over to the fridge or cupboard drawer to eat the insert relevant comfort food.

Of course, it’s not just our biology, which plays a role in the reasons we use food to cope with emotions. Emotional eating can also be the result of what we learn about food growing up. A food fingerprint, which we discussed earlier, will contain all sorts of connections between food and feelings, such as feeling happy, loved, safe, cared for, comforted.

So it’s no wonder we tend to food as a way to cope when we feel in need of these things. We want to be really clear here that there is nothing wrong with emotional eating per say. Eating in this way is a totally normal part of being a human being living in the Western world in the 21st century.

For many people, eating helps them to cope with whatever they have going on in their lives. However, we do recognize through our own experiences as well as our experience of working with others, that sometimes these patterns of emotional eating start to become unhelpful in some way. This can happen when food or eating becomes someone’s only way of coping with difficult experiences, and they feel they lack other effective ways of dealing with challenges in their lives or when eating in this way starts to have a negative impact on their physical or psychological health, or gets in the way of them living the life they want to live.

If you feel that you struggle with patterns of emotional eating and would like to understand a bit more about why this is and find alternative ways to respond to emotions without using food.

Look out for our blog series on emotional eating that will be coming soon.