The experience of eating is strongly tied to emotional circuits in the brain. In his 2011 doctoral dissertation, Michael Saddoris of Johns Hopkins University found that the brain structures responsible for our sense of taste resemble the connectivity structures in the limbic brain – the neural center of emotion . The emotional association of food is further compounded by the memories summoned by the smell of food, and by the aesthetics of a visually pleasing meal, leading to a strong relationship between food and mood. The processing of flavors in the brain is one of the dimensions of our physiology, responding immediately to nutrients or toxins that it perceives .
In the 20th century, the desire to produce food in abundance resulted in a decline in food quality, and the emergence of food “on the go.” The growing stressful demands of the modern lifestyle left little room to sit down and have proper meals, focusing on the experience of eating. We now know that this trend not only harms the quality of nutrition and physical health, but also has psychological implications – the experience of having a meal slowly and mindfully, taking in the colors, shapes, smells, textures, and flavors is an important experience to one’s emotional health and stress resilience. A meal should feed both your body and your soul.
The practicalities of your daily life may not allow you to allocate very long time to have meals each and every day. Yet, regardless of the amount of time you allocate, maintaining your focus on your meal using all senses is key to your well-being. When you eat, shift your attention to your experience, and on all five senses. You can do this at a white tablecloth restaurant or when having a deli sandwich, as long as your attention is kept on what you eat.
Think of a meal you ate during the past 24 hours. What flavors, textures, colors, or scents were good about it? Write below and share.
 Saddoris, “Complementary roles for gustatory cortex and basolateral amygdala in the encoding of sensory-specific associative outcome representations,” PhD Dissertation, JHU, 2011.
 Scott and Giza, “Issues of gustatory neural coding: Where we stand today,” Psychology & behavior, Vol. 69, issues 1-2, pp.65-76, April 2000.
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