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  • Writer's pictureTerra Thomas, MS, NBH-HWC, CHPC

Unraveling the Neuroscience of Eating

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Terra bringing joy into a client's kitchen!

Welcome to an exploration of how neuroscience sheds light on our eating behaviors and the intricate web of rewards that influence our relationship with food. In this writing, we delve into the fascinating world of brain science to understand how our brain's reward system can reinforce disordered eating habits as we seek solace in food to escape uncomfortable emotions. So, grab a snack, settle in, and let's embark on this eye-opening journey into the complex interplay between our minds and our plates.

From the first bite of our favorite comfort food to the sensation of a balanced meal, our brains are constantly processing the experience of eating. Neuroscience has revealed that our brain's reward system, primarily driven by the release of dopamine, plays a significant role in shaping our eating behaviors.

Dopamine, often referred to as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter, is released in response to pleasurable experiences, including eating delicious food. When we consume something enjoyable, dopamine floods our brain, creating a sense of pleasure and reinforcing the desire to repeat the behavior.

However, this intricate reward system can sometimes lead to establishing disordered eating patterns. When we face uncomfortable emotions, such as stress, sadness, or anxiety, our brains seek relief. Using food creates a powerful association between emotional discomfort and the act of eating, establishing a dependence on food as a coping mechanism. Eating, when used as a form of emotional regulation, simultaneously reduces distress and increases pleasure. Again, a very powerful connection deeply rooted in our brains.

As we develop a pattern of turning to food to soothe our emotional distress, a difficult-to-break cycle is set in motion. The more we rely on food for comfort, the stronger the neural connections become, reinforcing the association between eating and relief from distress. In short order, you can feel a loss of control over your relationship with eating as dependency on food as a source of comfort is increasingly necessary to feel less distress and more pleasure.

Awareness is the first step toward breaking free from the cycle of disordered eating. By recognizing the role of the reward system, we can begin to cultivate coping mechanisms that better serve our wellbeing such as meditation, exercise, spending time with loved ones and other self-care strategies.

Neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to reorganize and form new neural connections, offers hope for those seeking to overcome disordered eating patterns. Through consciously redirecting our behavior and creating new associations, we can reprogram our brain's reward system. Just remember, this takes time, it is a process. When disordered eating behaviors have been developed for a longtime, seeking supporting during this process is advised.

Understanding the neuroscience behind our eating behaviors is an essential step towards developing a freedom-filled relationship with food. By recognizing the powerful role of the brain's reward system and its link to disordered eating patterns, we can navigate the path with curiosity, compassion and connection to well-living.

Happy Eating!

P.S. If your relationship with food does not feel freedom-filled and you’d like to receive the Success With Stress diagram, that can be used IMMEDIATELY, send an email to or subscribe to Vitality Vibes on the website:

Disclaimer: Disordered eating and eating disorders share some commonalities, but it is important to recognize that they are not the same. Where an eating disorder is a clinical diagnosis, disordered eating refers to eating patterns that do not meet the criteria for an eating disorder diagnosis.


Terra Thomas MS, NBC-HWC is a credentialed health coach with an inspiring story. Triumphing over Legg-Calve-Perthes disease in her early childhood and living with Type 1 Diabetes since 1990, she has transformed her experiences to shape a unique coaching philosophy. Terra's own journey, coupled with her adventures in activities such as ultra-running, skiing, backpacking, waterfall ice climbing, and SCUBA diving, have provided her with invaluable insights and a perspective that challenges conventional norms. Clients have experienced transformative results under Terra's guidance, discovering their own path to freedom and well-living. Beyond coaching, Terra embraces worldwide explorations with her two children, constantly seeking out new breathtaking landscapes that fuel her spirit. She also finds solace in the tranquility of sunrise by the ocean outside her Santa Barbara home and the magic of human connection dancing late into the night alongside her love tribe. Terra's unwavering dedication to embracing life fully serves as an inspiration, empowering others to embark on their own extraordinary journeys.


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