The Psychology of Food Cravings and Emotional Eating

One important factor which may influence appetite control is the notion of food cravings. This overwhelming urge to consume a particular food appears strong in overweight dieters, and many theories has posited why this is so. The nutritional and homeostatic role of food cravings is described by physiological theories and explains why cravings might be more present in people who are deprived of food. The psychoactive abilities of certain foods to trigger cravings are likened to a self-medication behaviour and thought to relieve a central serotonin deficits. Psychological theories stress the role of negatives emotions (e.g. anger) as triggers for cravings and learning theories claim that cravings are a positive learnt response to cues (sensory, situational) and giving into a craving results in a pleasurable consequence. What is evident here is that food cravings are a multi-dimensional and complex occurrence, one which possibly involves aspects of all of the proposed theories.

Ranking Healthfulness of Foods from First to Worst | Tufts Now

Whatever the reason, it is suggested that food cravings frequently lead to consumption of the craved food and elevated Body Mass Index is associated with food intake and preference for high fat foods Bottled and jarred packaged goods. Even in non-clinical samples, food craving has been found to be related to body weight, suggesting the significant role of craving in food consumption. Early identification of elevated body mass indexes (BMI), medical risks, and unhealthy eating and physical activity habits may be essential to the future prevention of obesity. One crucial question is the role food cravings may play in maintaining excessive eating patterns observed in other problems with eating behaviours: binge eating, bulimia, and obesity.

There is thorough and outstanding evidence regarding the increase in worldwide rates of obesity and the projected outcomes if this is not addressed. Children in particular are noted as being especially at risk of future long term health problems. While dietary restraint, more nutritious eating habits and physical exercise have always been purported to be the answer to the obesity crisis in adults, adolescents and children, long term meta analysis and follow-up studies indicate that weight loss is not maintained (and indeed the more time that elapses between the end of a diet and the follow-up, the more weight is regained). Unfortunately, several other studies indicate that dieting is actually a consistent predictor of future weight gain.

A recent study conducted by Patricia Goodspeed Grant (2008) involved investigating the psychological, cultural and social contributions to overeating in obese people. She found that eating for comfort for the morbidly obese is rooted in using food to manage experiences of emotional pain and difficult family and social relationships. Her participants reported that what had been missing from all treatment programs they had tried was the “opportunity to work on the psychological issues concurrently with weight loss”.

It appears that a missing link in the treatment of overweight and obesity is this concept and issue of addressing the psychological contributors or emotional drivers that are leading people to overeat. Relying on willpower and education is clearly not enough.

Probably the best quality of organic foods has nothing to do with how many nutrients they have, but rather what they don’t have. Regular foods often have undesirable things added to them during their growing and/or processing phases. For example, fruits and vegetables are often treated with pesticides or other unhealthy substances. Foods can contain pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, or worse, and this information will not be shown anywhere on the food label. However, organic products have to follow strict regulations, which include not using unhealthy substances like pesticides at any point from start to finished product.

By not having these unhealthy ingredients, organic foods are unquestionably healthier than their regular counterparts, even if the foods have the same amount of nutrients. Basically every food has some things that are good for you and some things that are bad for you and products that have a lot of healthy features with few unhealthy ones are the healthiest foods and vice versa. Therefore, even if a food has a decent amount of nutrients, it can still be unhealthy if it also contains a lot of things that are bad for you.

For example, cold water salmon is incredibly healthy, because it contains quality protein and high levels of EPA and DHA, which are the healthiest Omega-3 fats. However, if you take salmon and deep fry it, you end up adding unhealthy substances, which lowers the overall healthiness of the food. While this has nothing to do with whether or not the food is organic, you can make the analogy that the organic food is the original salmon and the regular food is what you get after frying it.

To be fair, the difference in healthiness between an organic and regular food is not as big as the difference between fresh and fried salmon, but the analogy is accurate in the sense that both regular foods and fried salmon have a higher amount of ingredients that are bad for your health. Unfortunately, it is very hard to determine the actual impact on your health, because the extra substances found in traditional products may not visibly affect your body until years or even decades down the road. This makes it difficult to figure out the true benefit you get from eating organic foods.

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