We are what we eat…or are we?


“We are what we eat” as the saying goes. What we put into our bodies has a significant effect on what we become. Maybe there is a lot of truth in this, but I tend to think about it the other way around…

“We eat what we are”

We choose food to suit our mood, our choice is driven by our emotions. If we are feeling low we look for comfort, if we are tired we look for a pick-me-up. There are certain foods and beverages that we associate with celebration and even some for commiseration. While the exact foods or beverage that you picture in your mind  may vary depending upon your culture, religion or location, they will also have some striking similarities.

Most of us are lucky enough not to know true hunger or thirst. We are fortunate to have choice in how we satisfy our hunger. We tend to choose the option that we ‘feel like’ or are “in the mood” for.

In truth we choose our food because we like the way that it makes us feel. We may not always be conscious of it but we like the emotional journey that it takes us on.

Let’s think about Emotional Journeys in a different way…

You probably have a favourite film, one that you regularly come back to. You watch it with friends or your partner, perhaps with your family on holiday or at Christmas. Or maybe you have a particular music track that you always come back to when you are upset, happy or stressed?

As your favourite, you know the storyline, you know the twists and turns of the plot, the change in tempo. You understand the way that it will pick you up and take you along its path, you know the ending, and – most importantly – you know the way that you will feel at the end.

It will change your mood, it will relax or stimulate you, it will cheer you up or take your mind away from your problems. It will make you feel better.

You choose that film or music, because you know how you will feel by the end.

However, our moods are not that easily changed. We need to remember that there is not some simple switch that can be flicked to take us from stressed to relaxed, from sad to cheered…

The film or music works because it takes us on a journey. It picks us up whatever our mood and draws us in. There will be some critical points in this journey, twists in the storyline, changes in tempo or key that take our attention away from ourselves and into the narrative. It draws us along an emotional mood journey with ups and downs, plot twists and surprises, and leaves us at the end exactly where we knew it would. That is why it is our favourite, because we know that we can rely on it to take us to where we want to be.

The plot will even work with a disparate group of people starting in different moods.  Have you ever noticed the harmonious mood of the crowd as they leave the cinema after a good film compared to their range of moods and conversations at the start.

And so, it is the same with food, beverages and in fact most consumer experiences. We don’t always realise it but we have favourites because we are looking for a specific emotional journey which will satisfy our psychological needs.

A consumption experience is an emotional journey, it has a plot, the journey has its surprises, ups and downs. It draws us in, takes us and leaves us in a different mood, a different place from where we began.

So, next time you make a seemingly impulse purchase of a bar of chocolate, stop and think about the real reason that you chose that bar. Yes, you chose it because you like it, but what is the journey that your inner child was screaming at you for and why did you choose one chocolate bar over another?

This was probably not a rational purchase, your subconscious – your inner child – saw that bar and screamed “Yes, something comforting to soothe my mood. I need to be calmed down” or “That was a hard day, I need a treat.

The reason you chose one brand over another is because subconsciously you understood that it delivered the emotional journey that you needed.

As Brand Developers and Marketers, we can use this psychological understanding to connect the consumer’s sensory experience with the emotional journey. We can understand the key emotional touchpoints that our sensory experience is delivering, where we are missing the mark and where our competition is winning. With this insight we have the sensory and emotional script to create the ideal brand experience to drive consumer loyalty.


Chris Lukehurst is a Consumer Psychologist and a Director at The Marketing Clinic:

Providing Clarity on the Psychological relationships between consumers and brands