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The Science of Emotions and Eating

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>> Hi. Welcome back to Emotional Eating Psychology. Albert Einstein had many great one-liners, and this is one of them. "If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research." In this module, we're going to focus on some of the science or biology connected with emotional eating. As with all aspects of emotional eating, the science is complex. Though there's a wealth of information, most research highlights the need for more research because there are many possible factors at play. As a Health Coach, it's important to work with your clients holistically. Behavior change alone isn't enough, which is one reason why diets don't work. It's more than willpower. If it was easy as just putting down the fork, we probably wouldn't even be here right now having this conversation. Why is putting an end to compulsive eating so hard? We're all constantly bombarded by so much stimuli around us from our internal dialogues to external influencers. Is it drive to eat for comfort simply a learned psychological response or perhaps is it something driving us on a biological level? Psychologists love the nature versus nurture debate, are behaviors genetic, or do we learn them through experiences. Behaviors like overeating, binging, and compulsive eating are in part learned behaviors, in that they can turn into habitual and often automatic coping mechanisms. However, we're not Pavlov's dogs, we're much more complicated. So consider this a brief overview of some of the many potential biological factors at play. We are presenting this information because it's interesting to consider. In addition, it might be helpful to incorporate specifically with more analytical clients. In short, these are just more pieces of a large puzzle. This lecture focuses on emotions and six ways that they can biologically affect eating, including our experience with food and our food choices, or what we eat. Appetite, or when and how much we eat. And metabolic processes, like digestion. First of all, remember that emotional eating means eating in response to a psychological cue, not physical hunger. As such, it relates to the food mood connection, where our emotions can influence our eating habits, and our eating habits can influence our emotions. That said, we might not consciously know what's going on. All we know is that we can't stop. So when coaching clients, sometimes, it's helpful to bring in some science to help them see the bigger picture. There are many interesting studies in this area, and we'll share some throughout. Granted, some involve humans and some involve animals. Still, they all illustrate potential links that might help you better understand your client's eating habits. That said, let's dive in. Our first focus is what we eat. Number one, emotions can affect taste. This has to do with hormones, which we'll continue to incorporate into this discussion. One class of hormones called glucocorticoids are activated by stress and other unpleasant emotions like sadness and anger. Taste buds that register sweet and savory flavors have receptors for these hormones. And as it turns out, emotions can activate these receptors. In one study, stressed mice had 77% more activation than relaxed mice. The researcher suggested that stress might increase a preference for sweet and savory flavors. In another study, this one on humans, sports fans received sweet ice cream and sweet and sour lemon sorbet. If their team won, fans tasted sweet more strongly and sour less strongly. If their team lost, they tasted sour more and sweet less. If your team loses, you generally feel worse than if your team wins, right? In other words, emotion seem to influence the intensity of taste perceptions. When fans felt the positive emotions of winning, the sorbet tasted sweeter. I guess victory really does taste sweet. As this research suggests, links between emotions and taste perception might play a role in eating behaviors. We might reach for sweeter foods when sad because our taste buds are more sensitive to unpleasant flavors. Number two, emotions can affect the pleasure we derive from food. This is known as the hedonic experience a common term in the world of eating research. Hedonic basically refers to pleasant or unpleasant sensations. Going back to that same study I just mentioned, sports fans experienced the sweet and sour sorbet as more palatable when their team won, so more hedonically pleasing. When their team lost, it was less pleasurable. On the other hand, the ice cream always tasted sweet, though it was tasted more strongly by the fans whose team won. Taken together, these two factors might help explain why unpleasant emotions can fuel cravings for sweets. When we feel unpleasant emotions, we might turn to food for comfort, and no matter how we feel, sweet tastes sweet, while other flavors might taste more unpleasant. In other words, our cravings for comfort foods are about psychology and biology. Interesting, right? Number three, emotions can affect food preferences. This relates to the two points above. When we feel stressed out or upset, we often reach for highly palatable and pleasurable foods, typically high in sugar, salt, or fat. We've all been there. However, again, it's not as simple as that. Opioids are endorphins, otherwise known as the feel-good hormones. These hormones are released by the brain and can create feelings of pleasure or happiness. But as it turns out, this might not always be the case. In one study, consuming a nutritional beverage caused the brain to release opioids, but it didn't create feelings of enjoyment. Pizza on the other hand did both. It boosted feel good hormones, and it consciously made the eaters feel good. What does this mean? The author suggests that this overstimulation of pleasure might contribute to obesity and disordered eating habits. You might think of it like this. Pizza is too much of a good thing, at least when it comes to pleasure. It overwhelms our pleasure system which feels really good, so we want more of it. Other foods might feel good to the brain, but we don't enjoy them as much, so we're not tempted by them. Does that make sense? Again, many of these studies propose that more research is needed. Still, they help explain some of the reasons why we might compulsively eat these types of foods. So far, we've discussed how emotions can affect what we eat in terms of affecting taste, pleasure, and food preferences. They can also influence appetite, or when and how much we eat. Number four, emotions can increase appetite for pleasure via the reward center pathway. Emotions can fuel emotional hunger or the urge to eat when not physically hungry because we eat to feel better. Food is an emotional reward. As we discussed earlier in this course, food and drugs can follow similar reward pathways. For example, both binge eating and overeating can mere substance abuse behaviors. Just like drugs and alcohol, palatable foods with fat or sugar can increase opioid receptor binding and boost dopamine, a feel-good hormone. They also have reinforcing properties. In other words, it's a self perpetuating cycle. We taste pleasurable foods, and we want more of them which can create compulsive emotional eating habits that resemble drug addictions. Some studies focus on connections between the brain's reward system and obesity. For instance, higher body fat might be associated with less responsive reward feedback learning. What does this mean in terms of emotional eating? You can think of it like this. If you often overeat, you have to compensate because food triggers less pleasure than it does for people who don't overeat. In other words, you need more food to get the same high. Other studies suggest that chronic high fat diets might increase susceptibility to stress and other unpleasant emotions, which in turn can create repetitive cycles of overeating, more unpleasant emotions, and weight gain. Now we've tried to keep this as simple as possible. But if this topic grabs your attention, we encourage you to read more about this in your research endeavors. For now, let's finish up with two biological connections between emotions and digestion. Number five, the gut-brain connection matters. Despite the lack of proximity in the body, the gut affects the brain and the brain affects the gut. In fact, the gut is often considered the second brain and it's constantly in close communication with the brain. Digestive discomforts can be the cause or product of unpleasant emotions. Have you ever heard the saying, "Don't eat when you're upset"? When it comes to digestion, that saying rings true. For example, stress, anxiety, and sadness essentially shut down blood flow to digestion. Your gut is very sensitive. Eating when distressed can impact physical and emotional health in multiple ways. Fun fact, most of the serotonin in your body is produced in your gut. Serotonin is another one of those feel good hormones. Therefore, poor gut health can be linked from symptoms of depression and anxiety. This is one reason why emotional eating can be a very difficult cycle to break. We self-medicate with food, usually sweet or starchy foods that aren't nourishing to the gut. And because we eat when distressed, we don't digest the food well, which makes us more upset because now we don't like how we feel physically, so we reach for food. In fact, the crucial link between gut and both mental and physical disorders is now thought to be more bottom up, gut to brain, versus bottom down or brain to gut. Emotions play a key role in gut-brain health, and research continues to explore this complex relationship. In one interesting study, participants found depressing music less sad after having saturated fat injected directly into their stomachs. In other words, they appear to benefit from the pleasurable effects of the fat without experiencing the act of eating at all. There's clearly a connection between emotion, food intake, and pleasure, and it's an exciting area of research. Number six, negative thoughts about food might affect metabolism. How you eat matters as much as if not more than what you eat. How you think also makes a difference. At the end of the day, mindset matters. This is related to the gut-brain connection. Have you heard the expression, "The weight of guilt"? Guilt can feel like a weight and it can actually produce a bodily sensation of heaviness. Guilt can even work against weight loss efforts. This might be because negative thoughts affect the body's ability to digest and metabolize foods. It makes sense, right? Negative thoughts and emotions go hand in hand. Self-judgment, guilt, and anger are often cousins. Let's end there for today. To quickly recap, emotions can biologically affect what we eat, for example, taste, pleasure, and food preferences. When and how much we eat, for example, appetite as well as appetite for pleasure via the reward center pathway. And even metabolism and digestion, for example, via the gut-brain connection and the potential impacts of negative thinking. What does all of this mean for you as an IIN Health Coach? How can you apply this to your clients? Well, as always, it starts with self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-empowerment both for you and your clients. It also highlights the value of using a variety of lenses. Remember, when it comes to the science of emotional eating, just like psychology, it's a one-size-fits-none. That said, there's a lot of fascinating research out there. So stay tuned as we continue to explore. I'll see you back here soon.

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Duration: 13 minutes and 4 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
License: Dotsub - Standard License
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Views: 5
Posted by: integrativenutrition on Mar 14, 2019

The Science of Emotions and Eating

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