People only used to eat as a matter of survival, long gone are those days. Now, westernized society in particular we have food that is abundant, cheap and is available in all varieties(Lowe and Butryn, 2007). Eating is not just about the filling your stomach anymore. It is a fundamentally rewarding process and is equally linked to mood and emotions.(Vögele and Gibson, 2010).This is what we understand in food psychology.
So what does brain have to do with food?
Are you familiar with the Placebo effect? If yes that’s great, we are half way there. If not don’t worry,it’s no rocket science. Placebo is just a fake, harmless and sterilized substance which is used in pharmaceutical world against the real drug to test the effect of the drug. (The placebo effect,2010 )In 1983, Medical researchers were testing new treatment methods for cancer. They underwent a research where in 2 groups were subjected to two kind of treatment. Call it group A and Group B. Group A received the real drug where in Group B reserved the Placebo. Through the course Group A received the real chemotherapy and had one common side effect, hair loss. This was almost 74% of them. Now comes the interesting part almost 31% of the patients on placebo chemotherapy, the Group B also suffered from hair loss. Mind it this was just inert salt water injection(National Cancer Institute on placebo, 2020).
So why did this happen? Why did the 31% of Group B suffered from hair loss? The answer being, people have associated baldness with chemotherapy. So quite remarkably the group B on placebo did see hair loss, because they believed they would. This is Placebo Effect. It is mysterious yet it is your belief that attributes to the changes in your body. Not just here researchers have estimated that 35 to 45 percent of all prescription drugs may owe their effectiveness to placebo power and that 67 percent of all over-the-counter medications, such as headache remedies, cough medicines, and appetite suppressants, are also placebo based. In some studies, the response to placebos is as high as 90 percent.
Now coming back to food let’s see another example. A bowl of your favorite ice cream sundae. Consider a man wanting to lose weight. He will just look at the food possibly think of calories it’s giving him. A sweet tooth person or a kid will look at this with extreme delight. A diabetes patient will look at the food crave for it, take a scoop but will not eat it whole. A cook will admire that nicely plated sundae, rather than just food it’s also art for him. So what I’m trying to say is a food can either be a potential medicine or a potential poison. It depends on how you see it what you believe in it. This belief greatly affects the function of that food when it enters your body. Each individual responds quite differently in food metabolism depending on their individual thoughts.
Still not believable?
Here is how the science works. Consider the mind and digestive system as a coded pathway. You are a non-vegetarian looking at a plate of chicken bread and salad. The image of this along with all the sense goes to the center part of the brain and from there it is coded and sent to the lower part of your brain the limbic system. This is a very important part of brain which regulates most of your emotions and also has primary action in regulation of hunger, thirst, temperature, satiety and so on. Inside this we have a pea shaped small structure called the ‘Hypothalamus’which is the biological controller of the body. It is here where the image you saw is coded and stored. All sensory, emotional and thought inputs here are transduced into physiological response. Nothing shorter than a miracle, huh?
So say a person who loves ice cream, someone like me eats it. I relish it and love the flavor so my hypothalamus will modulate this input as positive and sends activation via parasympathetic nerves to the whole digestive system including salivary glands, esophagus, stomach, intestine, liver, pancreas and gallbladder. Metabolism is stimulated and the digestion is easier while breaking down the ice cream and burning the calories more efficiently.
In the next case the person who wanted to lose weight or that diabetic person is eating the ice cream. They are not happy about it. Even after they eat they have that guilt down their throat. So now here the hypothalamus will modulate this input as a negative one and sends down the sympathetic nerves. There is an inhibitory response seen by the digestive system. Which means the ice cream you are eating may be even a scoop or two is not getting metabolized by the body properly. This has a lot of bad effects starting from release of toxic byproducts, killing of gut micro flora, decreasing the calorie burning capacity and even increase in the insulin and cortisol levels. All of this will bring you nearer to the thing you are scared of. The ice cream you had will not be metabolized properly and on the other hand will be guilt infused body fat.
So the thoughts you have about your food is the instant reality that your body gives via central nervous system when you are having that food. Placebo effect is seen in food ( Kathrin schang on Placebo in food)
Any guilt about food, shame about the body, or judgment about the health are considered as negative inputs by the hypothalamus and is immediately transduced into their equivalents in the body. You can eat the healthiest meal on earth, but if you are thinking of the toxic thoughts the digestion of your food goes down and fat storage goes up. Likewise, even if you are eating some notoriously challenging meal and your head and heart are in the right place it will boost up the nutritious efficiency of that food.
I’m not saying you can drink poison believing its good and it won’t harm you. I’m being rational here and saying more than the same old saying of ‘You are what you eat’ we can bring forward the sayings like ‘Say no to guilty eating’, ‘Your food is what you believe in’ and ‘You are what you believe in’.
Food psychology is still a major path to be discovered as we know now. Eat with your mind, do not eat just for mere surviving. Eating should be a phoning with a prescription to your own inner nutritional pharmacy. What we believe is translated into the body through nerve pathways, the endocrine system, the immune network, and the digestive tract. So from now on bring in a happier relaxed person to the table believe me it will work wonders in achieving your health goal.