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The Science Behind Emotional Eating



The Science Behind Emotional Eating

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For many people, emotional eating is just a part of their lives. You know it is not a great habit, but you don’t know why you do it or how to stop. For all human behavior, there is a scientific, psychological explanation. When you fully understand the reasons behind your behavior, you will start to feel empowered to make better choices. You will start to understand that you are really the one in control, so you can change. Let’s take a look at some of the science behind emotional eating.

The Brain Runs On Chemicals

Many people do not realize the extent to which the brain operates on chemicals. We rarely think of chemicals as naturally occurring substances within our bodies. We mostly think of chemicals as harmful substances you find in a bottle under the sink. Our brain chemicals, though, are a very important part of our health. When brain chemicals get imbalanced in any way, it can result in some serious health and even emotional issues. It would take a very long time to study all of the brain chemicals that are at work each day, so let’s just look at a few of the chemicals which are most associated with food and emotional eating.

Dopamine – Dopamine is one of the brain’s main happy chemicals. The reward/pleasure centers of the brain trigger Dopamine surges. Dopamine surges can be triggered by all things pleasurable; winning a game, having sex, getting a massage, being recognized or rewarded, recreational drug use, smoking, alcohol consumption, eating sugary, fatty foods, as well as many other things.

Different things trigger dopamine surges in different people. If eating sugary, fatty foods immediately makes you feel less stressed or help you relax, you are experiencing a dopamine surge. The problem with dopamine is that some people’s brains literally get addicted to that surge. Just like a drug addict gets addicted to the dopamine surge they experience when doing drugs.

Serotonin – Serotonin is another happy chemical in the brain. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for giving us a feeling of calm and of being okay. When Serotonin levels are low, people will often experience feelings of depression. Many anti-depressant medications are developed with a goal in mind of keeping as much Serotonin present in the brain as possible. Anti-depressants are not the only thing that can increase your Serotonin levels, though. According to recent scientific studies, the nutrient that most affects increased levels of Serotonin in the blood is carbohydrates.

Knowing these scientific facts concerning brain chemicals helps us to better understand why we seek out sugary, fatty, high-carb foods when we are feeling down. These types of foods can quite literally give us a little mood boost. The problem is, the mood boost we get from high fat, sugary, high carb foods is very short-lived.

There Are Better Options

The mood-boosting effects of these foods can very easily be compared to the mood-boosting effects of drugs and alcohol. There is no denying that when a drug user is using drugs their mood is improved. But what happens after the drug wears off? Their mood plunges even lower than it was before. This also happens when we seek out unhealthy foods in order to boost our moods. The cycle starts all over and eventually it begins to affect our weight and our health.

Everyone experiences low moods and sadness. Finding ways to deal with these emotions in a healthy way, is essential to your long-term health. The great news is that there are many healthy things which can also boost our moods.

Exercise naturally releases endorphins into the brain. Endorphins are another happy brain chemical. Walking or jogging can release a huge amount of endorphins. Exercise-induced endorphin surges can last for many hours making this a great way to increase mood in a healthy way.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that is present in many healthy foods. Tryptophan is one of the building blocks of Serotonin. When you increase the amount of Tryptophan in your body through foods you eat or through supplements, you can increase Serotonin levels. The good news here is that Tryptophan can help stabilize Serotonin levels for several days. No crashing.

Another way you can trick your brain into releasing dopamine is to use health tracker apps, like the one found at When you can visually see your fitness progress on an app it triggers the reward centers in your brain. You are winning at something. This in turn releases dopamine in a healthy, stable way.

Understanding your brain and emotions can help you stop emotional eating and start making better health choices.

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