Do you eat to live, or live to eat? Many of us are such foodies that the answer to this question would be much more than a phrase. The truth is, we eat not just to satisfy our hunger, but also for a lot of emotional and habitual reasons. However, all foods are not equal; some are healthy, some others are not as healthy. To further complicate things, some of the unhealthy foods are so very tempting. Isn’t it almost impossible to ignore the sight of the hot jilebis soaked in sugar syrup, and walk away? Let us glance at the scientific view on how emotion plays a role in maintaining a balanced and pleasurable relationship with food.
When one needs to choose the food to eat, and the choice is between the chocolate brownie and the fruit salad, there are many factors that we might consider. The brownie is tasty and tempting, and has immediate benefits in making you happy. On the other hand, the fruits are less appealing, but are much better for health in the long run. Thus, what we are faced with is a choice between immediate and long-term benefits. Research into how people make such choices between the immediate (proximal) and the long-term (distal) benefits tells us that there is a definite pattern. The more negative your mood is, the more likely you are to go for the immediate benefits and choose the brownie. Similarly, positive moods would make you think more about the health benefits and lead you to choose the fruits. If you are like me, you might be wondering whether that explains how you end up buying more chocolates if you are shopping while hungry. Observe that hunger is a negative mood you are never happy when you are hungry and then, your choice of chocolates is easily explained by the desire for immediate benefits in a negative mood.
Recently, a group of scientists were looking at the reverse question. Given that your brain can affect your choice of food through your emotions, can the food you eat in turn affect how the brain works? The early results were indeed stunning. It was seen that people who consumed more probiotic yogurt — yogurt containing good bacteria developed more changes in brain activity around the emotion and sensation controlling areas of the brain. Does that mean that we can control our foods to measurably improve our mental health? Research might soon tell us the answer.