Food is necessary for physical survival. Food is also connected to feelings. Food affects chemicals in the brain. Brain chemicals control many of the body's functions, including mood, appetite, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. For example, one chemical that affects mood is serotonin. The body makes serotonin from foods such as dairy, beef, poultry, nuts, beans, pasta, and breads.
Another connection between food and feelings comes from childhood. Sweets such as cake and candy may be linked in our minds to happy times such as birthday parties. Many of us still cherish a favorite food Mom would make to help us feel better when we were sick. Other foods may produce bad feelings, for example vegetables we did not like but had to eat before being excused from the table.
For some people, eating is a way to deal with emotions such as stress, anger, anxiety, boredom, sadness, and loneliness. These feelings may be caused by major life events or by everyday hassles. Eating comfort foods may be a way to take our minds off our troubles, or a way to try and get the energy to deal with things. When people feel short of time and energy, they often eat junk food or fast food because it's quick and easy. Emotional eaters may not necessarily overeat, but rather eat unhealthy foods.
Food should be enjoyable while it nourishes our bodies. There are several steps you can take to make sure that you are not trying to use food to deal with feelings:
For more information about healthy eating, contact your local chapter of the American Dietetic Association. You may call their national headquarters at 800-877-1600, or visit their Web site at http://www.eatright.org.