Food Psychology – How Our Relationship With Food Influences Our Health

Food Psychology is an area of research which employs existing psychological methodologies and findings to gain an understanding of food selection and eating behaviors, including their potential influence on mental wellbeing.

Healthy relationships with food can help us feel in control of our bodies and nourish ourselves without becoming restrictive or restrictive with what we eat. In contrast, unhealthy relationships often result in rigidity around food consumption or lack of flexibility.

Choosing Foods

Note that building a healthy relationship with food doesn’t come easily; like any relationship, it requires work and regular tending.

An integral component of being flexible is accepting change. Though having preferences, such as specific desserts or restaurants, is great, they should never become positions you cannot shift away from – for instance if your partner wants to go somewhere that doesn’t offer your favorite treat?

Kirsten Ackerman, a non-diet registered dietitian nutritionist and intuitive eating counselor suggests one way to increase flexibility is by becoming aware of your ‘good/bad’ food judgments throughout the day, which could reduce their power over you.

Eating Habits

Psychological principles play an integral part in food choices and eating habits, as can be evidenced by studies like Derocha’s research showing how social influences may cause people who eat with others to choose similar food due to social pressure or on schedule eat at similar times (at home or out in public). Also, personality can have an effect on people’s food selection – those with more conscientious personalities tend to opt for healthier options such as fruits and vegetables over sugary, salty or fatty options.

People’s food preferences can also vary widely, based on personal experiences, encouragement to eat, family customs and rituals, advertising messages, personal values or advertising – for instance one person may like frankfurters while another doesn’t – perhaps due to being encouraged as children to try them.

Nutritional psychology is an emerging area of study that bridges psychology, behavioral science and nutrition. It explores how our diet affects our mental health – how it influences what we think, feel, behave, sense and experience.

Emotional Eating

Assumptive emotional eating occurs when one uses food to satisfy one’s hedonic drive – or desire for pleasure without an energy deficit – avoid negative emotions or conform socially. It can take many forms; snacking mindlessly during an anxiety-inducing football match or snacking mindlessly between work shifts are both forms of emotional eating that should be recognized and managed properly.

Emotional eating has typically been measured using self-report questionnaires; however, implicit measures such as IAT may provide more accurate measures, including mood assessment without participants becoming aware that their responses are being assessed.

Unhealthy relationships with food often begin with overly restrictive diets, excessive focus on and preoccupation with food or consuming meals that don’t meet our health goals. Such habits often result in guilt and shame associated with nutrition goals being harder to attain.

Eating Disorders

People who rely on food for comfort may be able to temporarily manage their eating and diet habits, but over time the negative impacts on self-image may grow worse. Walsh notes that in extreme cases coping with negative emotions through eating can lead to disordered thoughts and behaviors such as binge-restrict cycles.

Nutritional psychiatry has emerged as an emerging field in psychology that explores the relationship between diet and clinical mental health outcomes. It studies food choices and eating behaviors among healthy individuals as well as those suffering from eating disorders.

Change requires both behaviors and cognitive transformations. One effective form of psychotherapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy teaches patients how to alter their thoughts about food and body image, making cognitive behavioral therapy effective at treating binge eating and bulimia nervosa. Family-based therapy may also help; here, loved ones take over responsibility for feeding those living with anorexia or bulimia.

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