Is There a Link Between Loneliness and Eating Habits?

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Food often serves as both sustenance and solace. From moments of sadness to bursts of joy, our relationship with food intertwines with our deepest feelings. Yet, recent studies suggest that certain eating issues, such as cravings and binge eating, are intimately entwined with one prevailing emotion: loneliness. But why does loneliness wield such influence over our food choices? A groundbreaking study published in JAMA Network Open delves into the neurobiological underpinnings of this intriguing connection.

The research, led by a team of scientists, focused exclusively on female participants. Through a series of assessments, the researchers gauged participants’ levels of loneliness and explored any concurrent eating issues. Subsequently, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans were employed to monitor brain activity in response to various stimuli, including images of savoury and sweet foods, as well as non-food items.

Shedding Light on the Findings: Loneliness and Brain Activity

The study revealed a compelling correlation between loneliness and heightened brain responses to food-related images. Participants reporting higher levels of loneliness exhibited increased activity in the inferior parietal lobule (IPL), a region associated with social cognition and emotional regulation. Furthermore, individuals grappling with loneliness displayed higher incidences of eating issues, including overeating and food addiction.

Moreover, loneliness manifested in other facets of participants’ well-being, as evidenced by elevated body fat percentages and heightened psychological distress, encompassing symptoms of depression and anxiety. This underscores the profound impact of loneliness on both neurobiological processes and overall health outcomes.

What Can You Do?

  1. Prioritising Social Health: Recognising the significance of social well-being is paramount in promoting holistic health. Integrating assessments for social isolation alongside traditional health screenings can offer invaluable insights into your overall well-being.
  2. Emotional Regulation: Acknowledging the interplay between emotions and behaviour underscores the importance of adopting holistic approaches to wellness.  Explore mindfulness practices, journaling, and self-compassion techniques can foster emotional resilience and mitigate the effects of loneliness on eating habits.

While loneliness may cast a shadow over our well-being, it also presents an opportunity for growth and transformation. By fostering a deeper understanding of the intricate interplay between emotions and behaviour, we empower clients to navigate life’s complexities with resilience and grace. Together, let us embark on a journey of self-discovery and transformation, illuminating pathways towards holistic health and vitality.


Zhang X, Ravichandran S, Gee GC, Dong TS, Beltrán-Sánchez H, Wang MC, et al. Social Isolation, Brain Food Cue Processing, Eating Behaviors, and Mental Health Symptoms. JAMA network open. 2024 Apr 4;7(4):e244855–5.‌

Larrabee Sonderlund A, Thilsing T, Sondergaard J. Should social disconnectedness be included in primary-care screening for cardiometabolic disease? A systematic review of the relationship between everyday stress, social connectedness, and allostatic load. PLoS One. 2019 Dec 19;14(12):e0226717.

Malone JC, Cohen S, Liu SR, Vaillant GE, Waldinger RJ. Adaptive midlife defense mechanisms and late-life health. Pers Individ Dif. 2013 Jul 1;55(2):85–9.

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