When It Comes to Food, Your Brain Might Be Calling the Shots

Last Update: February 16, 2023

If you’ve ever washed away your stress with a few pints and a huge burger, or soothed a bad day with a bowl of ice cream, you’ve seen firsthand the influence your brain has on your eating habits.

At least that’s what Marc David, the founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, would tell you. We caught up with the groundbreaking nutritionist and educator to learn more about how thoughts and feelings influence what we put in our mouths. Read on to find out how eating psychology differs from traditional clinical approaches—and how your relationship with food could be making you gain weight.

What, exactly, is the Psychology of Eating Institute?

The institute is an online educational organization where we offer two different kinds of trainings where students learn how to work with eating psychology—but not eating disorders.

Most people immediately think eating disorders, like anorexia, or bulimia, or extreme obesity when you say eating psychology. We are working on an eating philosophy for everyone: for you, for me, for your mother, for your father. How many people do we know that want to lose weight? Or people who are emotionally eating? Or binge eating? We train people to work with all those eating challenges and more.

A lot of us walking around are silently caught in a food prison. Our work helps liberate them.

What do you mean by the “psychology of eating”?

A lot of our eating challenges have nothing to do with food. A lot of it is related to our life, to money, to work, to sexuality, to our parents.

A lot of people end up self-rejecting, and when you self-attack and you self-hate, you’re actually putting the body into a stress response. It is a literal chemical state.

When the body goes into a stress response because you’re stressed out about food and weight, you’re producing more cortisol, more insulin, and all those hormones over time actually signal the body to store weight, to store fat, to not build muscle.

Stress deregulates our appetite. It makes more people want to eat more, not less. The mind impacts the body. Emotions impact the body in a very direct and clear way. We help people make those connections and we give them the tools and the techniques to deal with them.

So how do you teach your students to change this process?

The royal road to taking your food challenges and your eating concerns and leaving them behind is to let go of the struggle and relax into the same challenges we’ve been anxious about. Then we change our psychological state and change our metabolism.

What do you hope to change about the way we perceive food?

One thing we look to help people change is to see all of their challenges with food, with their body, as having a wisdom to it. When you an decipher and decode that message, you can unwind that particular challenge and begin to heal it.

Most people are accustomed to fighting their weight and attacking their body. Willpower doesn’t work for anyone when it comes to regulating one’s appetite.  We’re helping people learn how to be in their body in a positive and empowering way.

Your body has a natural appetite and a natural weight.

Tell us about the Future of Healing conference coming up on June 22.

The online conference features 70 experts. I’ve chosen these experts because they come from a variety of disciplines. Often, with healing, people think of a medical doctor or nutritionist.

This conference is all about expanding our definition of healing. We also talk about eating psychology, we talk about sexuality, we talk about spirituality, we talk about herbs, we talk about the media and culture, and we talk about the health of the planet and the oceans. We look at healing through a number of different lenses.

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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