Can we train our brains to crave whole foods?

When it comes to nutrition, there’s no such thing as a one size- fits-all approach. What works for you, might not be right for your best friend, or sister. That’s why we believe that everyone can lose weight in a sustainable way, you just need to find the right formula for them.

“We used to eat to fill a hole in our stomachs, now we eat to fill a hole in our hearts”. Dr Chatterjee Rangan.

Furthermore, our relationship with food is not coming from a lack of knowledge, but if we’re depressed, lonely, bored, tired, angry or frustrated, we can often turn to food. Almost anything can trigger a desire to eat. Common external reasons for emotional eating may include:

  • work stress
  • financial worries
  • health issues
  • relationship struggles

Other potential internal causes include:

  • lack of introspective awareness (realising how you feel)
  • alexithymia (lack of ability to understand, process, or describe emotions)
  • emotion dysregulation (inability to manage emotions)
  • reversed hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) stress axis (under-active cortisol response to stress)

Emotional eating is often an automatic behaviour. The more that food is used to cope, the more established the habit becomes.

So why do we reach for a comforting snack when experiencing those emotions? If we have a feeling of stress or dissatisfaction in some way, we will always turn to certain behaviours to help us. All behaviours serve us in some way, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing them. For example, those of us who use social media will know all about those little doses of feel-good feelings we get when a post is liked or shared, but we also get these little dopamine hits from food, and certain foods in particular. These are foods that have been designed to have a special combination of sugar, fat and salt in them. They’re devastatingly tasty – salted caramel did not exist 50 years ago! But once you’ve tried it, you want more – your mouth might be watering right now reading this.

Temporary fix

So why then, if you feel low and a bit stressed, might you decide to have a packet of smoky bacon crisps instead of an apple? Because you feel good temporarily!!! This then spikes a lot of dopamine in your brain and teaches you to repeat that behaviour again. We’ve been using the same foods for years and many of us are stuck in a loop to help soothe emotions, and the dopamine hit then conditions us, which simply means that next time you’re feeling that same emotion, you will turn to the same comfort foods.

But can we train our brains to crave whole-foods instead? If you’re eating some broccoli you won’t get that same dopamine hit that you would get from a packet of biscuits or ice cream (the foods people try so hard to resist at the start of the year).

Most of us would agree that the past years has been an uncertain, anxious and stressful one, so it’s no wonder that we’ve been turning to food to help soothe our stress. Of course people may have put on weight in the past year – it’s a natural coping mechanism. There’s nothing wrong with eating more or putting on a few extra pounds, but once we start to understand our triggers and patterns, we can start to create a toolbox of healthier behaviours that we can access when we need to.

Treat yourself with kindness

My approach to health and weight loss is not to tell you what you should be doing, but instead to share information and inspire change: I honestly believe that dancing in your kitchen is one of the best stress relievers there is. If you put on an upbeat tune and you dance around, it burns your stress and it’s almost impossible to feel low and sad. If dancing’s not your thing, i suggest a much calmer way to treat yourself: Having a bath is a really nice way to nourish yourself when it’s cold and dark outside. I’m having about four baths a week at the moment; I put the kids to bed, have a bath and go to bed, and I feel great! Whatever it is that appeals to you, be it reading, yoga or going for a long walk, there is always another option rather than food.

The three F’s

To begin to understand your relationship with food and change it for the better, we got three simple steps…


Next time you feel a craving, take a quick pause. Take a moment to think about and write down what it is you’re truly feeling. It might be hunger, or could it be something else? Have you just had a row with your partner, have you been in meetings all day, has work been stressful? This doesn’t mean you can’t have the food or drink you’re craving, but at least you’re now aware of why you want it.


How does your snack feed that emotion? When you have the biscuits do you feel less stressed and a bit more love towards yourself? If yes, now you’re understanding how the snack helps you.


Now that you know how you’re feeling and how those foods help you, can you now find an alternative behaviour to feed that same feeling? Instead of turning to chocolate, perhaps you could run a bath, give your partner a hug, or do a yoga flow. If you know you’re using food for that purpose, you’re empowered to change that behaviour.

Don’t forget that emotional eating can affect anyone. People of all genders, ages, and life stages can experience emotional eating. It can become a problem if a person doesn’t have other ways to cope.

Get in touch with us if you think you could do with an extra push.

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