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Feeding your feelings

Your food and your mood

The way you think about the food you eat, instantly becomes reality in your body. This idea might be difficult to swallow, but scientific evidence shows that the way our bodies and brains are entwined electrochemically and the way our limbic system affects our digestion, means that sensory input can greatly affect physiological responses. This means that our mind has great power over our body.  

According to Marc David, author and founder of the Institute for Psychology of Eating

"What you think and feel about a food can be as important a determinant of its nutritional value and its effect on body weight as the actual nutrients themselves." 

He goes on to explain that if you're angry or upset about the food you eat perhaps in regards to self-esteem, body-image, guilt and weight-loss, then it could mean that your body will not process and metabolise your food in an effective way. On the other hand, if you feel good and positive about the food you eat, then you will not only enjoy your meal more, but your body will more effectively digest and distribute the nutrients.

“One of the most fundamental building blocks of nutritional metabolism is neither vitamin, mineral, nor molecule. It’s our relationship with food. It’s the sum total of our innermost thoughts and feelings…this relationship with food is a deep and revealing as any we might ever have”

So intense is our real and imagined relationship with food, that we have a whole nervous system associated with our gastrointentestinal tract. It's called the enteric system or the ''second brain" as some scientists call it, and it contains 100 million neurons, uses more than 30 neurotransmitters and is home to 95% of the body's serotonin. 

In an article published by Scientific American, it seems that it's not only the mind that affects the guy, but that the gut also feeds back information to the brain. Prof. Emeran Mayer of U.C.L.A. believes that "in coming years psychiatry will need to expand to treat the second brain in addition to the one atop the shoulders."

Consumer attitudes towards food

So how do our feelings about food affect consumer attitudes and behaviours?  The connection between food and mood was examined by market researchers at the Kline Group and it was discovered that there was a significant shift in the way food is marketed once the feel-good factor gained traction. Traditional demographic-based strategies were being replaced with hyper-segmentation which is when "specific products designed to meet the very particular needs of a unique group of consumers" for example gluten-free, vegan-friendly, IBS support, Low-GI, healthy fats. 

This approach then impacts the way brands implement their social media campaigns. According to industry manager Nancy Mills, while segmented markets are more varied and difficult predict, they are actually a much more receptive audience. Mills believes that consumers "self-segment as they come together around common interests, despite the diversity of their traditional demographics". 

While the feel-good food market might be a slightly more mercurial beast, with the right approach, combined with the right amount of research and insight, brands can yield a much better response and level of engagement, even breathing new life into the more mature markets and products.

Feel-Good Branding

The food/mood relationship works in reciprocity. Eating certain foods can make you feel better in the mind and the body, but feeling good can also impact the dietary choices you make. The Food Brand Lab at Cornell University discovered that:

"Individuals select healthy or indulgent foods depending on whether they are in a good or a bad mood, respectively. The findings also indicate the integral aspect of the time horizon, showing that individuals in positive moods who make healthier food choices are often thinking more about future health benefits than those in negative moods, who focus more on the immediate taste and sensory experience."

"We take our stance on food marketing very seriously" explains Paul Ringsell of Beyond, "you can either choose to zero in on those negative emotions to sell junk food, or like us, you can make the conscious decision to focus on positivity and promote brands and food that make us feel food."