Food's Connection to Our Hierarchy of Needs

Updated: Jul 14, 2020

Food is woven into so many different aspects of your life.

Take a moment to think about how your food choices affected you this week. Did these choices affect you physically, mentally, emotionally, financially? Maybe you and a loved one bonded over a meal. Perhaps a food choice made you feel energized and invigorated, or sluggish or upset your tummy. Maybe determining the dishes to serve was a crucial part of planning a future social event or choosing what to have for dinner required a full discussion with the family.

Our food choices affect all 5 levels of our hierarchy of needs. The hierarchy of needs was made by psychologist Abraham Maslow for all my psych nerds, I see you! I’ll explain by starting from the bottom of the pyramid.

1. Physiological

You actually are what you eat! Your cells, organs, body’s systems, hormones, microbiome, they all adapt based on how you nourish your body. Nutrition is the strongest determinant of the quality of physical health. Imagine you have a really nice car. You're probably going to fuel it with the highest quality oil and gasoline and have maintenance done on it regularly. Your body is like a Mercedes-Benz and deserves the best!

2. Safety

Most of us already acknowledge that our food choices affect health, of course. But how many of us are aware that often times, food can act as medicine. An estimated 80% of chronic disease is preventable by lifestyle choices, with food choices as the most influential factor. Disclaimer: Do NOT lower a dosage or discontinue medication usage without physician approval.

3. Love & Belonging Think of all the gatherings you have with family and friends. Graduations, weddings, holidays, random meet-ups. Food is often a big focus of social events. Working with a qualified nutrition professional will help you navigate not only how to eat well at home, but also while spending time with loved ones at other's homes, restaurants, while traveling, and elsewhere.

4. Esteem

I have good news for us all: We can have a healthy relationship with food. For some of us, food causes cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a psychology term meaning we are thinking opposing thoughts about the same subject, leading to distress. These opposing thoughts I witness most often in clients goes something like this, “I like the food I eat because it tastes really good and brings me temporary comfort, but I also hate it because it later makes me feel sluggish and I don’t like that it causes me to gain excess weight.” Food can also raise our esteem when we feel empowered by mindful food choices! Woohoo! If you find yourself in a state of cognitive dissonance with your food choices, I highly recommend working with a qualified nutrition professional to form a healthy relationship with food.

5. Self-actualization This category encompasses many aspects of health including our mental and emotional health. Did you know food often can affect that, too? Of course, eating nutrient-dense foods 100% of the time yet being depressed does not equal a happy life. This is why it's important to work with a nutrition professional that understands how instrumental emotional health is and will meet you where you are at in your health journey. Furthermore, emotional and physical health are interconnected and a lot of upcoming research is revealing what we eat affects how we think. More on this in the future!


Put it to into practice! Suggested action item: Choose one of these categories and relate it to a food goal for this week. The more specific the goal, the more likely you will succeed with it. Write out this goal in your phone, Post-it note, or email it to for feedback. Template: This week I will eat (food) for (frequency) in order to (reasons why). Example: This week I will eat at least 4 cups of colorful, non-starchy vegetables for 5 days this week in order to improve my immune system and have more frequent bowel movements.

Questions & feedback can be sent to: If you know someone that would benefit from reading this, please share it. Be well!

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