By Tony Vernon, HWC, NMC, AMC, MMC

Ever wondered why you go for ice cream or yogurt, or a big meal when you are stressed? Are we craving touch and trying to replace human touch with “inner touch” by eating food?

The inside of your body is stimulated by eating food, in a similar way to how your skin is stimulated by human touch. This is because your digestive system: esophagus, stomach, gastrointestinal system and bowels are in essence an inward continuation of your skin. Your skin is rich with nerves, but so is your gastrointestinal system. The enteric nervous system is often referred to as our body’s second brain, and as you chew your food, then swallow the food it travels down your esophagus into your stomach, then into your gastrointestinal tract. The process stimulates your internal organs like an internal massage.

The gastrointestinal system is more predominantly connected to the brain via the parasympathetic nervous system, than the sympathetic nervous system, which means that eating, as well as giving us an internal massage on the inside of your body helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and so can induce a feeling of relaxation, and so helps us to de-stress. However, we need healthy food and healthy fats, not unhealthy junk food, unhealthy fats or overeating. The sensory nerve fibers in skin, that send messages to the brain from touch, are similar to the sensory fibers of the gastrointestinal tract that convey messages to the brain: how much have we eaten, how the digestive system is working so you can know if you are full, etc.

How much food we have eaten, especially fat, is communicated to the brain in part by the digestive hormone cholecystokinin (CKK) which activates the vagus nerve. This is why eating food, especially overeating fat-laden food, helps us to relax and calms us down. However, do you need to eat, or do you need touch? Fatty foods can comfort us from our troubles or stress temporarily, but meeting unmet emotional needs with fatty unhealthy foods is not a good habit for your health.

Is the obesity epidemic really a hunger for human love, and an attempt to replace human touch with food?

The long-term consequences of negative eating patterns and continually trying to stuff down negative feelings such as anxiety or loneliness with food is a worldwide problem. We need to limit the use of our time in front of computers, unplug from technology, exercise daily, and develop our relationships to be deeper and more honest, hug more, and love each other and appreciate each other more with respectful touch.

Food is dependable as junk food is available in every grocery shop down the road. But this is not the answer. Reach out, replace your comfort eating with more exercise and relationships who have your well-being at heart, and a healthier society will grow…one person at a time.