It’s no secret that junk food is everywhere and it’s hard to resist sometimes, especially when you’re feeling down.
It’s not your fault! The food industry knows how to exploit our hedonic hunger by adding sugar and unhealthy carbohydrates to their products, which makes them irresistible and dangerously addictive.
A disastrous negative loop of hedonic eating is really affecting mental health, and it’s contributing to two huge societal issues: obesity and mental illness.
The good news is that you can break the cycle! By eating a healthy diet full of nutrient-rich foods, you can improve your mental health and resist cravings for junk food.
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Hedonic Hunger and Mental Health are Rooted in the Mind Gut relationship
Most people are familiar with the sensation of feeling hungry. This physical hunger is our body’s way of telling us that it needs nutrients. However, there is another type of hunger that is motivated not by physical need, but by pleasure. This hedonic hunger is triggered by the mind-gut relationship.
What is Hedonic Hunger?
Hedonic hunger is defined as “the desire to eat for pleasure rather than to satisfy a physiological need.”
When we act on hedonic hunger, we are usually seeking out something that is high in sugar, carbohydrates, or both. This type of food is typically not very filling and does not provide the nutrients our bodies need to function properly.
Consuming based on hedonic hunger can result in overeating and packing on undesirable pounds, both of which take a toll on our mental wellbeing.
Excessive calorie consumption is usually attributed to hedonic hunger, a psychological drive that drives us to eat more food than we need in order to achieve pleasure.
Certain outside elements, such as emotional eating, meals and meal preparation, food cravings, sleep, physical activity, stress, social media sites like Facebook and Instagram are all capable of stimulating overconsumption of food.
I’m not saying to avoid the occasional family outing, because really this can really be a positive experience and be an asset to a healthy mind.
Growing up in an Italian family, I know what wonderful desirable foods can be created in an Italian kitchen. I’m really referring to the negative daily habits that are formed from a negative food environment.
There is a daily compounding effect of bad subconscious habits driving mental decisions on health decisions that continue to spiral out of control. But there is hope!
You may not know it, but what you eat can have a profound effect on your mental health. In fact, many mental disorders are exacerbated by poor nutrition.
Poor nutrition has been linked to a poor mental state, and that negative thinking can be difficult to break out of >> The Connection Between Hedonic Hunger and Mental Health
Poor nutrition has been linked to a variety of mental disorders, including:
- Bipolar disorder
When we don’t give our bodies the nutrients they need to function properly, they can’t perform at their best. This can lead to feelings of sadness, anxiety, and irritability.
Hedonic Hunger Triggers
Hedonic hunger is triggered by the mind-gut relationship.
The gut-brain connection is a two-way street. Just as our thoughts and emotions can affect the health of our gut, the bacteria in our gut can also influence our mood and mental health.
This connection is known as the microbiome-gut-brain axis.
The microbiome is the collection of all the bacteria that live in our gut. These bacteria play a crucial role in our health, influencing everything from our immune system to our metabolism.
Sometimes a person might even have to go as far as a gut cleanse to reset this system.
The microbiome-gut-brain axis is a complex system, and we are only just beginning to understand how it works.
Hedonic hunger is also often triggered by stress. When we’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, we may seek out sugary or fatty foods, as well as alcohol all to obtain some false sense of comfort when really it’s a further loss of control.
This emotional eating can cause us to not only overeat, but most likely lead to binge eating, and obviously gain weight, which can worsen our mental health.
Additionally, when we act on hedonic eating, we’re not giving our bodies the nutrients they need to function properly. The motivation to consume too many of the wrong foods leads to a vicious cycle of poor nutrition impacting our mental health which then drives us to seek out more unhealthy food choices.
The current standard is that no one knows what causes mental illness, but soon we may have a new understanding with further research ongoing. Mental disorders could be metabolic disorders of the brain, and seeing this would give greater control for individuals to empower themselves.
Win the Battle Against Hedonic Hunger
There is enough evidence to suggest that exercise and nutrition may help with mental health, but there is also growing evidence supporting the idea that nutrition has an impact on mental illnesses.
Whether mental health challenges drive food decisions or food intake becomes a “sport”, the result is the same. The foods we eat have a profound effect on our mental health, and we need to be more mindful of what we put into our bodies.
We can’t always control what life throws at us, but we can control how we respond to it. When it comes to our mental health, we need to take an active role in our own wellness.
Where do you start to win the battle?
Identify the why
Identifying the why is the first step in getting control of poor nutrition habits that are affecting mental health.
There can many reasons why hedonic hunger or emotional eating occurs. It might be boredom, stress, anxiety, or even just because certain foods are accessible and convenient.
Once the why is identified, it’s much easier to find a solution. If the reason is boredom, then finding a new hobby or activity to do can help mitigate the urge to eat out of boredom.
If the reason is stress, then finding healthy coping mechanisms, such as exercise, journaling, or talking to a therapist can be helpful.
And if the reason is convenience, then Meal Planning and Prepping can help make healthy eating more convenient.
Identifying the why first allows you to target the solution more specifically, and therefore be more successful in making lasting changes.
I became frustrated with the diabetes advice I was receiving because it wasn’t effective and only left me feeling more confused and defeated. To make matters worse, during stressful situations, I would turn to food for comfort–all a recipe for a health crisis.
However, once I reached my breaking point where the pain of potentially dying outweighed those other feelings, I was finally able to begin rehabbing my health by taking action with better choices, like starting a Ketovore diet. This created a positive feedback loop that started compounding in a good way.
Action creates a new loop
The first step towards solving any issue is admitting that you have one in the first place. This pertains to mental health disorders, eating disorders, and stress that can only be numbed by hedonic eating.
Identifying triggers will help, but massive action to break the negative loop is vital. The key is to be proactive and not wait until a crisis hits to start making changes. It’s always easier to prevent something from happening than it is to fix it after the fact.
Making small changes in diet and lifestyle can have a big impact on mental health. And as the saying goes, “the best offense is a good defense.” By proactively making changes to improve mental health, we can build a stronger resilience to stress and anxiety.
In short, by being proactive, we can avoid crisis altogether.
Imagining a disaster is a powerful stimulant to change one’s life, overshadowing all of the other feelings described above. Take a lot of action in the direction you want to go and you’ll get the answers and self-fulfillment from the positive loop.
Know a new normal
Redefine what you think you’re getting out of food by removing the pleasure or emotional satisfaction you believe it provides.
Making healthy choices each day is one way to break out of this cycle. When we make conscious decisions to eat nutritious foods and exercise regularly, we give our bodies the tools they need to function at their best.
Food consumption of energy-dense foods will actually be the food reward a person may search for since food satiety and increased energy may help the brain power required to maintain a healthy mental state.
Once you feel the power of this positive result, it can actually be quite addictive… but at least this addictive behavior doesn’t lead to obese patients on the operating table!
There’s a high degree of satisfaction that comes with victory, which activates the brain chemicals Dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. The endorphins that we get from winning are known as “joy chemicals,” and they’re produced when we see ourselves winning.
This can help reduce stress levels and improve our moods. Additionally, making healthy choices each day can help us reach our goals and feel more accomplished.
These seemingly small steps can have a huge impact on our overall mental health and well-being.
Conscious decisions to improve health, give support to the mind to be less motivated and act on hedonic hunger, which allows a person to achieve desired results and not fall prey to self defeating behaviors.
Hedonic hunger can be a difficult thing to overcome, but it is possible with the right mindset and action. By being proactive and making changes to our diet and lifestyle, we can improve our mental health and avoid crisis altogether.
It’s important to be aware of the connection between hedonistic eating and mental health. Poor nutrition can negatively impact our mental health and make it difficult to break out of self-destructive cycles.
Additionally, by consciously making healthy choices each day, we can help reduce stress levels and improve our moods. By making healthy choices each day and being mindful of our nutritional needs, we can improve our mental health and well-being.