Your sense of taste and smell is hard-wired to the emotional center of your brain, called the amygdala.
We have all had the experience of smelling a fragrance and recalling a childhood memory, like the smell of brownies in the oven, or apple pie cooling on the counter.
Staggering new research has brought new light to this connection between scent, emotion, and eating.
Your sense of smell, which also governs the majority of what we taste, can pick up on over 1 trillion different scents and related emotions according to the latest research. (1) Prior to this research, scientists believed the sense of smell was only capable of distinguishing about 10,000 scents.
Each of these trillions of scents is processed through the emotional cortex of the brain, meaning that each scent and taste of a food can carry with it an emotionally-charged memory or feeling that can, at the very least, be stored in your memory and determine if you like the food.
At its higher potential, it could trigger a cascade of old emotional memories, food cravings, emotional eating or binge eating, and more.
From this perspective, it is very understandable why we are so emotionally attached to our food. Perhaps it’s the same reason even the friendliest dog will growl at you if you mess with their food while they are eating!
Food’s Journey of Emotional Coding
According to Ayurveda, food is emotionally charged from the way it was grown, harvested, prepared, cooked, and eaten.
Ayurveda makes the case that it is not just the taste and smell that will emotionally charge your food, but that emotionally charging our food is one of the many roles of all the senses.
This may sound far-fetched, but there are many studies now that have linked emotional stress to an alteration of the microbes in the gut resulting in a host of health concerns affecting the body, mind, and emotions. (5-7)
In Ayurveda, it is said that eating is a communion between the intelligence of nature and our human intelligence, and the senses are the avenues by which this transmission takes place.
In a perfect world, all of our food would be consciously grown, gently harvested, slowly prepared and cooked and eaten with awareness. This process of awareness is called sattva—a state of mind in which one’s actions are connected to and hail from a state of inner peace and calm.
We RecommendIs Your Food Emotionally Charged?
Looking for Sattva in all the Wrong Places
To replace this experience of peace and calm, the brain has attached to certain comfort foods as emotional modulators, rendering many of us emotional eaters.
We must become aware of how we replaced our natural sattvic state of peace and calm, a true source of joy, with the sensory stimulation of emotionally-charged foods.
Relax and Dine
Taking time to relax and eat activates the rest-and-digest parasympathetic nervous system while de-activating the fight-or-flight nervous system that turns off digestive strength. (7)
Remember, eating fast and while stressed makes it almost impossible for the body to properly digest food. Most likely, you will find yourself craving a snack or comfort food in short order as a result.
According to Ayurveda, stress and sattva are two opposite experiences. Stress negatively alters beneficial microbes, and a sattvic lifestyle supports a healthy population of beneficial microbes. (5,6)
Science now tells us gut microbes govern our mood. (2) When under stress, our beneficial microbes de-populate. (4) As an example of this connection, if you were having mood issues, you could increase your dose of Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum to boost more beneficial microbes and help the nervous system respond calmly to stress. (3)
One study concluded that psychological stress typically triggers a fight-or-flight response in various parts of the body, which ultimately disturbs the microbiome.
In the absence of stress, a healthy microbiota produces short-chain fatty acids that promote health. During stress, an altered gut microbe population affects the regulation of neurotransmitters regulated by the microbiome and gut barrier function.
Meditation, a powerful sattva-promoting exercise, helps regulate the body’s stress response by suppressing stress reactive states while maintaining a healthy microbiome and gut-barrier function. (6)
Learn my One Minute Meditation. Do it before each meal!
Take the Stress Out of Your Life– Stress Quiz
To determine whether or not you are living a microbe-promoting, mood-supporting, sattvic lifestyle, please take our Emotional Body Type Quiz.
Discover which areas of your life you are not living in a sattvic manner, and then take steps on an Ayurvedic journey towards living a healthy microbe-promoting way of life.
Don’t miss my podcast with Marc David, founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, where we dive deep into the science of emotional eating.