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Happiness and Eating

“The happiness of pursuit” by Jeffrey Kluger (TIME MAGAZINE, 7/8-15/13) is not about eating per se, but started me musing about food and our often driven pursuit of it.

The article describes how Americans tap into the “happiness industry.” Two relevant ways are “‘pills’ (the TIME poll found that 25% of American women and 5% of men say they are taking antidepressants) and ‘food’(48% of women and 44% of men admit to eating to improve their mood).” Almost half the country engages in emotional eating!

Most of you know that neurotransmitters manage our moods. Kluger tells us, “Serotonin and dopamine are often, simplistically, thought of as feel-good neurotransmitters.” He goes on to explain that, for certain people (in the article, he’s talking about the behavior of immigrants), “the power of the chemicals is that they regulate what researchers straightforwardly call search activity—forward-looking behavior that often occurs in pursuit of a specific goal. Search activity simply feels good—a fact that helps explain why shopping for something is often more fun than buying it…”

So, when you’re mulling over what you’re going to buy for that big binge, scouting out special foods in the supermarket aisles, speeding home and imagining tearing open your grocery bag and chowing down your goodies, you’re not crazy. This is an important concept to recognize: the euphoria of being desperately driven toward food has roots in your brain chemistry. “What’s more,” explains Dr. Vadim Rotenberg, a psychiatrist and psychophysiologist at Tel Aviv University, “the feel-good search experience can stimulate people to continue pursuing a goal even when they’re having trouble achieving it.” How many of you binge-eaters have gone through hoops and taken huge risks just to sit and eat your M&Ms or Oreo cookies in peace and quiet—or in secret?

Two points to be distilled from the above. First, realize that emotional eating is common happiness-seeking behavior. There’s nothing unusual about your desire for food to lift your spirits when you’re stressed or distressed. That doesn’t make it healthy behavior, but it might take the sting and stigma out of what you’re doing. Second, recognize that it’s not simply happiness you’re after, but that there’s pleasure as well in the process of seeking happiness. In your case, planning a binge generates its own euphoric feelings.

When you’re in a food-finding frenzy, be aware that your desire isn’t for food but for the pleasure you get from seeking it, then find something to do that makes you happy.

How to Get Treated with Respect
No Need to Trust Your Appetite

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