• Food and Emotions

    Posted on October 12, 2012 by in Blog, Research


    By Nina from Australia via Wikimedia Commons 

    by Joslyn Brenton

    Hello from the research desk!

    In this blog entry I want to talk about the link between food and emotions. We have been asking the mothers in our study, “When you hear about nutrition and weight, for example on TV, what do you feel like you hear about?” Many tell us they hear they are supposed to eat more fruits and vegetables, exercise at least three times a week, and eat smaller portions. Watching the news and reading online we learn that we are becoming a fat nation, that we eat too much fast food, and that this creates a lot of health problems.

    Rarely do we hear about how food makes us feel.  Since emotions influence behaviors (for example, I love someone so I want to do something nice for them) like eating, this may be worth thinking about.

    Food can be a source of happiness. Many mothers tell us they feel pride and joy watching their kids eat a meal they made. Working with food can feel creative, and makes mothers feel like they have accomplished something good. Food is also a source of happiness because we associate it with celebrations like birthday parties, and holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. For many, these celebrations involve eating yummy foods, like cakes and baked turkeys and ham. Others tell us that food played an important role in their family growing up because food is what brought family members together every Sunday. Participants smile when they describe a favorite dish their grandmother or aunt used to make.

    For some, however, food can be a source of unhappiness or pain. All too often mothers struggle to put enough food on the table. Eating the same inexpensive meals over and over is not very exciting. Some mothers have sad memories of not getting enough to eat when they were children. Others never learned to cook, or they simply do not enjoy it. For many then, shopping, preparing, and eating food can feel like a chore that brings little satisfaction or joy.

    And sometimes food brings us pleasure and pain at the same time. For example, a lot of mothers tell us they like the taste of fast food (and many find this to be the most affordable way to feed their kids), but they feel guilty about eating it because they are told it is bad for them.

    Through our interviews with mothers we are discovering important links between parenting, feeding kids, and guilt (as the mother of a 4 year-old I also experience this). Many parents want to protect their kids by giving them the healthiest foods. However, healthy foods, like fresh fruit, are not always affordable. Mothers often feel guilty when they cannot give their kids the foods they want. And let’s face it; sugary foods make us feel happy for a short while. Some mothers tell us they give their kids sweet treats because they want them to be happy.

    Sometimes we are not aware that food brings us pleasure or pain. Yet it might be important to think about the emotions we experience when we eat food, especially if those emotions lead us to eat too much or too little food. Below are some questions that might help us all think about the relationship between emotions and food:

    • Do I ever eat when I am not hungry because I am feeling sad or stressed?
    • Which foods make me feel happy, and why?
    • Do I ever give my kids certain foods because I want them to be happy?
    • What else, besides food, can make my child happy?
    • What else, other than food, can make me happy?
    • What does it mean to have a healthy emotional relationship with food?

    Just remember, the point of thinking about food and emotions is not to make you feel guilty! Instead thinking about these questions might help us understand how our food past shapes the foods we eat today.

    Thinking about how food makes us feel might also help us change or shift eating habits we do not like. And, thinking about the happiness food can bring us makes us appreciate food all the more!





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