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The Psychology of Food Choice

Emotional healing begins with identifying and naming emotions from a place of non-judgement. We all feel a variety of emotions, and our emotions constantly change. Many emotions are more or less intense versions of other emotions, as you can see in the Wheel of Emotions.
Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

20 million women and 10 million men in America have an eating disorder at some point in life. Half of the teenage girls and 1/4 of the boys have tried dieting to alter their body shape. 66% of Americans are currently on a diet. 79% of dieters believe that losing weight requires sacrificing. 74% of dieters believe anyone can lose weight with enough willpower. 71% of dieters believe that mindfulness is the key to greater health. For many its an ongoing struggle. There is a better way to explore your own relationship with food. Awareness if your ally.

Before we go any further, we want to help you understand the concept of one size-fits none. Each of us has a different relationship with food based on our experiences, habits, values, relationships, self-relationship , circumstances, resources, and personality. So, what works for others may not work for us. We need to look within our selves to begin to develop a healthy relationship with food.

We can start by practicing non-judgement when we eat and journal what we eat and how we feel physically and emotionally before and after. You can start this right away. Journal all your meals, including snacks and focus specifically on how you feel emotionally before and after eating. At the end of each day, review your notes and write down any thoughts or meta-emotions (see illustration) which are feelings about your feelings, that you have as well as any patterns or connections you see.

Let's talk about emotions. Emotions provide valuable information including:

  • indicating a perceived need or want

  • motivating an action

  • connecting with others

Sometimes we just don't understand why we feel the way we do and since emotions change constantly, this can leave us in a tailspin of unknowns. Let's begin to see how we can start to connect our emotions with our food choices:

  • Meta-emotions are a way we feel about our feelings. Our emotions are not good or bad. They help us communicate and motivate action and connect us to our values and priorities.

  • There is a direct connection between what you eat and how you feel. You can feel happy and relaxed after eating some foods or jittery or unnerved after eating others.

  • How we eat also influences how we feel. When we eat too much, more blood flows to the digestive system away from the brain.

  • The food-mood connection is what we eat and how we eat influences our emotions. We want food that makes us feel good but when we indulge in comfort food, we can feel irritable due to physical discomfort and guilt and frustration because we cant believe we ate the whole thing.

We want to begin to tap into our Emotional Intelligence (EI) which is the feeling mind, or part of the mind that helps you identify or manage emotions. EI increases self-awareness and self-connection. It helps us to work with emotions in helpful ways and to develop coming strategies especially when we repeatedly reach for food in response to our emotions.

When food becomes our #1 coping mechanism or tool for distraction, it can slide into a harmful realm of emotional eating which includes:

  • Using food for a purpose other than nourishment

  • Ignoring hunger signals and eating when not hungry or not eating when hungry or eating too much or to little - this is a disconnect between how hungry you are and how much you are eating.

  • Using food as a coping mechanism for emotions you don't want to feel to numb, self-comfort or control.

  • Feeling guilt, shame, or powerlessness

  • A sudden or urgent feeling to feel satisfied - a feeling that is usually still unsatisfied even when full.

  • When you are eating and your food choices plus your motivation for those choices requires digging into those tough how and why questions rather than focusing on the what.

Ask yourself these questions:

How do you feel after you eat?

How do you define eating out of control?

What do you think you eat _________when you feel sad?

Why do you always skip lunch even if you are hungry?

Emotions are triggered by a stimulus which motivates a response (coping mechanism). We have a choice how we respond. Four guidelines for healing emotions are to:

  • Create space for release

  • Practice radical acceptance

  • Learn to tolerate distress

  • Develop self-healing and coping skills like crowding out, creating distance from emotions and writing to-do lists.

Work on an internal locus of control - the belief that you have control over your choices and your life - this creates a sense of empowerment to help you cope with uncomfortable emotions.

Continue to connect with yourself. Trust the process and enjoy the journey - success doesn't always arrive on a silver platter. You must move toward success. It meant that trusting you are where you need to be and trusting the process and creating space to enjoy the journey. Challenges provide opportunities to learn and grow. Questioning your own assumptions helps propel you to be open to new possibilities.

~All information takes from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition Emotional Eating Course

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