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Food Cravings And What They Mean (Part 2)

Apr 15, 2008
What is it about food that offers us a sense of comfort? Why do we have the term comfort food? Well, as I mentioned last time, when my grandfather died, my grandmother became a sort of recluse and turned to food in a time of depression. You might be surprised to find out that eating is a very emotional process! It usually involves all of our senses. Let's look at an example. Remember when your mom used to bake homemade apple pie when you were a child? Remember the smell of the pie before it went into the oven, as well as the anticipation of it being finished and taken out of the oven as you smelled it while it was baking? Now, let's say that your mother passes away. You become depressed and begin to seek out and consume nothing but apple pie and/or any other particular food items that you may have remembered her cooking. Naturally, if you had pleasant memories of your mom cooking these meals made with love and affection, then when you smell and apple pie baking, it will conjure up inside of you all of those memories you once had with your mom. So, in a sense, eating apple pie (or whatever the product) is a way to be close to a loved one. Sounds crazy, doesn't it? Well, not really.

In addition to people eating out of this need to feel connected with loved ones, when you eat something, dopamine (the "feel-good chemical" found in your brain) is released, thereby releasing good feelings that you are gaining from eating food. Therefore, if you are depressed, of course it would make sense that you might eat more because eating, in essence, makes you feel better. So, what is there to take from all of this? Eating is an emotional process. Often times, we associate memories and feelings, experiences (both good and bad) with eating. If you are away at college, you might eat more of a certain type of food because you miss your parents or grandparents. Eating the foods that they used to like preparing for you is a way to feel emotionally connected to them. When we hear the word "addiction," we often times think of drug addicts, not food addicts. However, food can be extremely addicting. And with the increasing amount of people who are obese in the United States, perhaps it begs the question, "Are Americans more unhappy today than in the past?" People who are chronically depressed reach for food just like a drug addict reaches for drugs. It is a means to an end. Just like drug addicts, people who are addicted to food are trying to fulfill a need and will only achieve a temporary solution to the problem until they become hungry again, or until their mind makes them believe that they are hungry.

The mind truly is a powerful tool. How do you encourage someone to stop eating compulsively? After all, unlike drugs, we need food to survive. The key is to find out what is triggering the behavior and then work on resolving the problem. This can and is usually done with the help of an outside source, such as a psychologist. Having a person, such as a psychologist, help you to understand the emotional stress that is causing you to form bad eating habits, can greatly improve your chances for leading a healthier lifestyle. Such a lifestyle will not be achieved until you can understand the emotional factors that motivate such behavior.
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