Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behaviour in a given context (OED) and the given context here is the food that you eat and the liquid that you drink.
Your relationship with your food began with the need for energy in the form of liquids you had as an infant and the solids you moved onto as you grew up, mostly provided for you by your Mother and Father, in much the same way that their mothers and fathers provided for them.
Like them, you developed a liking and a disliking of certain foods and liquids and you were highly influenced by your parents’ behaviour in this context. So much so, in fact, that if they were both fast eaters for example, then you would most likely learn to mimic this behaviour and become a fast eater yourself.
The same goes for large portion eaters, junk food eaters and so on. And if you were unlucky enough to have parents who behaved generally in this way – then, like them, you would probably be overweight or obese today.
By the time you entered your teens, your behaviour around eating and drinking had probably become habitual, as you unconsciously consumed whatever it was you had grown to like, or what was put in front of you - it was just something that you did In response to hunger or thirst triggers that happened to you every day, whether your food and liquid was provided by your parents, your school or college.
Now you are a little older and wiser and you may wish to do something about your relationship with and around your food and liquid intake, for a variety of reasons – from weight loss and body image, to boosting your immune system and energy levels, to just wanting to eat more healthy foods in order to avoid long term degenerative illness.
In order to begin to find the right physical and emotional balance, it is critical to understand how you behave in this context – what your relationship with food is.
It is not just what is being eaten, but in what quantities, and how it is being eaten, when it takes place, its frequency, in what combinations it is being consumed and what mood one is in when this takes place.
Patrick Holford the Nutritionist and author of The Optimum Nutrition Bible says
‘I believe the experience of a profound sense of wellbeing can be achieved by everyone. It is characterised by a consistent, clear, high level of energy, emotional balance, a sharp mind, a desire to maintain physical fitness and a direct awareness of what suits our bodies, what enhances our health and what our needs are in any given moment’.
It is a given that this statement means eating foods that are nutritious in every way – be in control of our emotions – be physically fit and have a constant awareness of what is good for our bodies and our health in general.
Now, how many people do you know who fit this bill?
The number of people with recognised eating disorders, such as anorexia, an emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat or bulimia another emotional disorder involving distortion of body image and an obsessive desire to lose weight, in which bouts of extreme overeating are followed by depression and self-induced vomiting, purging, or fasting, is just over 1 million in the UK.
2 in 4 people – 30 million - in the UK are overweight and half of these are clinically obese and most of these people are fast overeaters of processed or refined foods.
Research by Mintel has shown that 25% of people in the UK are on a diet of some sort most of the time – that’s 15.5 million people. Whilst quite a sizeable chunk are doing this for health reasons, by far the majority of these people, mostly women, are undertaking these regimes for cosmetic or aesthetic reasons, responding to peer and media pressure to look slim and feel attractive.
It is compelling to assume that millions of people are maladaptive eaters, who under eat, skip their meals, very rarely eat fresh fruit and vegetables and who rely on junk foods, microwave meals and packaged takeaways for much of their sustenance – a sustenance that does not provide them with the nutrients they need to maintain a healthy body and mind.
And that’s probably why nearly a third of people – 20 million - in the UK take a food supplement of some description, many of whom do so thinking that by doing this they don’t need to eat as much. According to the Food Standards Agency, and the World Cancer Research Fund supplements are not a substitute for food.
An interesting perspective, don’t you think, of the way, most people in the UK behave around the third most important element they need to survive, next to air and water – their food.
If you fall into any of the general categories above then you probably need to rethink your food strategy.
And it begins with you – what foods you have grown to like over the years, against what is actually good for your health and wellbeing.
The nutritional elements need to be geared to boosting your immune system at all times, (particularly where ill health is present) and to ease the energy the body needs to digest and properly eliminate food and liquids, as digestion is the biggest user of energy in the human body. That means the right food in the right combinations as much as possible.
In order to begin to permanently alter the way you behave around food and drink, it is essential to raise your awareness of yourself as the physical and emotional effect of food and drink on the human anatomy is immediate and awesome, particularly from the viewpoint of ignorance, addiction and self-abuse.
Marc David the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating says “It’s fascinating how stress, fear, anxiety, anger, judgment and even negative self-talk can literally create a physiologic stress response in the body. This means that we generate more cortisol and insulin, two hormones that have the unwanted effect of signaling the body to store weight, store fat, and stop building muscle”.
So whilst you may be able to alter your food strategy into a healthy and nutritious one, you will also need to ensure that you are not stressed when you eat – by taking responsibility for your health (body) and wellbeing (mind)
What you eat
If you eat mostly processed food and drinks, your body has to work harder to digest this type of food, which has a low nutritional factor. In other words, it may taste good and meet your hunger needs, but at the cellular level, where the real work takes place, much of it is rejected as lacking the right nutrients to boost your immune system and energise your body and mind, and that which is not eliminated, simply turns to fat.
This type of food uses up a lot of energy in the digestive process, can cause fatigue and does not make for smooth bowel movements.
If you eat high water content whole or real foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables and grains that make up to 80%, of your daily food intake, there is less energy being used in the digestive process. Enzymes found in the water of fresh fruit and vegetables – and not in tap water – produces amino acids that go on to produce all the protein you would ever need. In addition, the fibre that is present in this type of food is great for the intestines and digestive tract and bowel movements are smooth and regular.
Quantity of food you eat
A normal stomach can expand to hold up to 4 litres of food, more than 50 times its empty volume.
If you eat this sort of volume of food 2-3 times a day, your stomach will distend permanently. In other words, it will distend from its natural size of around the size of your open hand, to 4-5 times the size. A large distended stomach, becomes hungry sooner that a normal stomach, as the brain begins to learn to trigger off hunger pangs earlier for you to fill your stomach and the more you eat over and above the amount your body actually needs will turn to fat. The two types of fat that you have in your abdominal area are subcutaneous fat, which lies just under your skin and visceral fat, which distends the stomach and gives the infamous pot belly look. Your visceral fat greatly increases the risk of you developing various heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep apnoea, some types of cancer and several other degenerative diseases such as arthritis.
How you eat
Most busy people in the West eat their food fast, particularly if they are eating junk food. Here it is mostly a matter of feeding because you’re hungry – it doesn’t much matter what you eat as long as it is something. It takes the brain 15-20 minutes to register that you are feeling full – by that time your meal is over and you have probably eaten too much. Digestion begins in the mouth – if you are a fast eater, then you are not chewing your food enough to get the saliva in the mouth to begin to prepare your food for its passageway down the oesophagus into the stomach. Most obese and fat people eat fast and don’t realise that this aids weight gain in the form of visceral fat – the fat that is bad for your liver and heart and that can lead to many chronic degenerative diseases. That’s because the act of eating fast is considered a stressor by the body, which results in decreased digestion, decreased nutrient assimilation, increased nutrient excretion, lowered calorie burning rate, and a bigger appetite.
Frequency of eating
The three meals a day syndrome has become institutionalised in our society and not all people conform to that need, as we are all very different. If you do eat fast and are overweight, then the likelihood is you are eating processed or junk food more frequently because you are most likely to be hungry, more often than most. If you are eating high water content foods, such as fruits and vegetables, you are probably not overweight, eat the right sized portions at various times of the day and not only when you do feel hungry – so frequency is not a problem. Try to create a a general food plan and stick to it.
Combinations of your food
Ever since the Hay diet came out in 1927 people have looked at food combinations and whether this is an important issue with regard to their food intake. Again, the trouble with this issue, is that we are all different. You should try it out for yourself, and if it works for you, adopt it.
Our society has become institutionalised in the manner of mixing animal protein with high starch foods and the issue lies in your digestion. There is no doubt that people who do eat properly combined foods, do feel better, they spend less energy in digestion and their bowel movements are far more comfortable.
The mood you are in
If you are in a life and death situation, your digestive system shuts down, and adrenaline is pouring through your blood in order to deal with the stress of saving your life. Thankfully, most of us don’t live in an environment where we face this type of stress every day.
However, many of us do live very stressful lives, so whilst our bodies are not having to deal with the levels of adrenaline to save our lives, most of us experience chronic stress, that triggers off these stress hormones on a regular basis, which has a major effect on digestion and promotes weight gain, among other unhealthy effects. Put simply, if you’re angry – don’t eat – let the anger go – improve your mood – and then eat – slowly – and this will improve your mood even more.