Accepted abstract - Creative Tastebuds Symposium 2021

Design for Emotional Eating: food affordances, disordered eating, and healing.

Research paper

By Silvia Neretti, Arizona State Univeristy

This paper contributes to the Creative Tastebuds Symposium’s theme “How do we eat for both pleasure and planet?” by highlighting and connecting the gaps existing in the research on disordered eating practices (e.g. overeating, emotional eating, and Eating Disorders), from a socially oriented design perspective merged with Food and Eating Design, while including the different scales these disorders are entangled with (individual-systemic). These blind spots will be presented through a transdisciplinary review in anthropology, sociology, psychology, and design. 

On one side, the analysis and treatment of disordered eating practices, historically focuses on the individual, while the socio-economic scale from which they originate is considered only theoretically. In the context of Food and Eating Design, issue such as overeating is grouped with overconsumption and pollution, to signal that those are the systemic challenges that Food Design should take care of (Stoz, 2020). However, how are disordered eating practices tackled in design, and what is the appropriate scale for design interventions on the topic? The Eating Disorder scholar Rebecca Lester suggests considering disordered eating bodies “as carrying the symptoms of larger systemic disfunction” (Lester, 2019; 84) when working with and for these disorders. 

Furthermore, the creative potentialities of food have not been considered when taking care of disordered eating practices. The research on Eating Disorders recovery, for example, focuses on behavior modification and symptom reduction, while attention to foodstuff is given through nutrition, dietetics, and the practice of re-feeding. However, the material, sensory, affective and relational affordances of food and their effects are left unexplored. This gap prevents us from finding out what can food do to us: food could be used as a bridge, to heal and improve relationships with eating, emotions, bodies and embodiment, and the socio-emotional sphere in which the disorder emerges while commenting on the systemic issues that contribute to the disorders.

The Food and Eating Design perspective, conversely, affords an array of exploratory and creative elaboration of the concept of food and its sensory experience (Zampollo, 2016). Academic research in design (Wrigley & Ramsey, 2016) and design projects (Gruijters, 2016) explore topics of eating between health, emotions, and sustainability. Despite this existing knowledge, a cohesive approach on how to tackle disordered eating practices by design is missing.

The paper aims to expand the existing field of Emotional Food Design (Wrigley & Ramsey, 2016) into taking care and design for disordered eating practices: Design for Emotional Eating. The paper will provide a materially distributed definition of disordered eating and it will introduce possible trajectories to design for these disorders while involving different scales and considering food sensory and affective affordances. These explorations will merge research in Food and Eating Design, Design for Health and Design for Behavior Change (Niedderer et al., 2020), Eat-Art (Howells, 2015), semiotics (Mangano, 2015), research in Eating Disorders and their various epistemologies, and lived experiences.


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Howells, T. (2015). Experimental Eating (Illustrated ed.). Black Dog Press.

Lester, R. J. (2019). Famished: Eating Disorders and Failed Care in America (1st ed.). University of California Press.

Mangano, D. (2015). Che cos’è il food design (Le bussole Vol. 496) (Italian Edition). Carocci editore.

Niedderer, K., Clune, S., & Ludden, G. (2020). Design for Behaviour Change (1st ed.). Routledge.

Stoz, B. (2020). Serial Eater: Food Design Stories (English and French Edition) (Bilingual ed.). Stichting Kunstboak.

Wrigley, C., & Ramsey, R. (2016). Emotional food design: From designing food products to designing food systems. International Journal of Food Design, 1(1), 11–28.

Zampollo, F. (2016). Welcome to Food Design. International Journal of Food Design, 1(1), 3–9.