Your Brain and Food: Eating Healthily isn't as Easy as it Seems

Eating healthily isn't easy. In fact, your brain mediates in the type of food you choose to consume depending on how you feel.
Your Brain and Food: Eating Healthily isn't as Easy as it Seems
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Brain and food have a direct relationship. However, you often don’t give this link the attention it deserves. This is despite the fact that you’re living in an age where you’re bombarded with terms like “real food” or “conscious eating“. Furthermore, you’re urged to pay attention to your diet in order to meet certain beauty standards. Or, to choose so-called “superfoods” in order to take maximum care of your health.

However, there’s something important you should consider. In fact, you should start to pay more attention to how food makes you feel rather than how it affects your appearance. Because the truth is that your brain modulates the type of food you choose based on how you feel. Nevertheless, this doesn’t always work in your favor.

Instead of obsessing about complying with certain diets or choosing products that appear to be very healthy, you’d be advised to take another approach. As a matter of fact, regulating and managing your emotions is as important as choosing what to put on your plate every day.

Diet affects your emotions. In turn your emotions impact what foods you choose to eat. Eating well depends on many factors that you don’t always take into account.

woman eating donut representing brain and food

If there’s one thing the brain loves, it’s fat, sugar, and salt. However, for our distant ancestors, it was difficult to access these extremely useful resources for survival. For this reason, it seems that we’re programmed in some way to consume as much as we can of them whenever they’re within our reach. In fact, their consumption activates our reward circuits. Consequently, we might say that they’re extremely powerful reinforcers.

You probably find that whenever you go through difficult times and experience ups and downs in your mood, you often try and activate your reward circuit in this way. Indeed, junk food, rich in fats, salt, and sugars gratifies your brain and provides you with instant pleasure. However, that delight is brief and also addictive. Furthermore, little by little, it leads to eating styles that are harmful to your physical and psychological health.

Emotional eating and the “cheat” brain

It’d be wonderful to have the kind of brain that would always motivate you to choose the healthiest dietary option. Nevertheless, the way you eat is based on your education, your culture, and your biology. Furthermore, if you were to ask yourself what factor mediates the most in how you eat, the answer would be simple: your emotions.

In addition, your brain doesn’t exactly help you to maintain a correct diet. In this respect, the  University of Amsterdam conducted some research. The study concluded that people who emotionally eat take longer to feel satiated. It seems that a problem appears in the stimulation of the GLP-1 receptor associated with satiety.

Being anxious or feeling bad about your problems directly affects how you eat. Brain and food are closely related. Emotions modulate your behavior. They also affect how you eat.

You’re the result of your good (or bad) habits

Your brain is the sophisticated result of evolution. Furthermore, the diet has been an undoubted factor in human selection and advancement. In fact, the change from primitive hunting and gathering to the much richer, nutrient-dense Paleolithic diet was an evolutionary milestone.

Your brain and diet are both affected by your lifestyle and your habits. Along these lines, Dr. Bob Weinhold, an expert in epigenetics, conducted a study that stated many of today’s diseases depend largely on the external factors that surround us.

Society, education, work, stress, culture… All these factors affect how you eat. As a matter of fact, these elements affect your health more than your genes.

Your brain is shaped by what you see, feel, and what society transmits to you. Nowadays, eating well takes time and this is an element that everyone lacks today. That’s because life today is based on rushing, worrying, and pressure. Hence, you’re invited to feed your emotions, not your body.

Sad man thinking about brain and food

Brain and food: emotions affect food (and vice versa)

Your emotions urge you to choose some products over others. In reality, there aren’t really any “good” and “bad” foods. The problem arises in the quantity you might consume and in the difficulty of maintaining a varied and balanced diet.

Brain and food feed into each other in two ways. For instance, you know that the way you feel affects which products you choose to eat at any given moment and situation. Therefore, what you give to your body also signifies how you feel.

The University of Foggia (Italy) conducted research that indicated the Mediterranean diet has a positive effect on mental health. On the other hand, basing a diet (exclusively) on a high content of saturated fat and high-calorie foods can lead to depression.

Finally, always try to remember that, beyond fads and diet gurus, lie your emotions. At the end of the day, a healthy diet requires knowing how to manage stress, anxiety, self-esteem and all those aspects that affect your psychological balance.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • van Bloemendaal L, Veltman DJ, ten Kulve JS, Drent ML, Barkhof F, Diamant M, IJzerman RG. Emotional eating is associated with increased brain responses to food-cues and reduced sensitivity to GLP-1 receptor activation. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015 Oct;23(10):2075-82. doi: 10.1002/oby.21200. Epub 2015 Aug 31. PMID: 26331843.
  • Ventriglio, A., Sancassiani, F., Contu, M. P., Latorre, M., Di Slavatore, M., Fornaro, M., & Bhugra, D. (2020). Mediterranean Diet and its Benefits on Health and Mental Health: A Literature Review. Clinical practice and epidemiology in mental health : CP & EMH16(Suppl-1), 156–164.
  • Weinhold B. (2006). Epigenetics: the science of change. Environmental health perspectives114(3), A160–A167.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.