97: to eat or not to eat?...
Instinctively, without thinking - one usually want to vote for choice, for human right to choose, choice is always wanted and valued (voting is also a choice!). Then I remember all those times when I ate in the restaurants with extremely thick menus, and those times when I ate in the restaurants with one page menu titled "Chef recommends". And I clearly know that I would choose not choosing in a heartbeat. Let's stop for a minute to consider this.
We like to act of choice itself, because it provides us more freedom of choice and sense of freedom itself (1). I immediately remember how many times I have heard the legend about those days immediately after regaining independence and getting over the blockade, when queues for food disappeared and bananas were everywhere. When you could actually CHOOSE which kind of meat you will eat today. Or if it will be meat at all. Forget the legend, I saw it and lived through it myself.
We like to choose because then we control the outcome (meat, not fish), and this makes us feel mighty, strong, in control (2). It is not necessary to verbalize it to others ("Yes, I can!") or to yourself, but statistically speaking, when mom hears "beep" at the cashier in the food store, she decides the choice of food for at least two other people (this statement is statistically balanced for Lithuania). That is almost god-like power. And when I say "mom", I am also relying on statistics, because mothers most often become food decision makers. Mothers use a whole array of rationalizations why their decisions are good - they manage the family budget, they take care of the health of family members and emotional atmosphere in the family, maintain family traditions, etc. (3).
Traditionally we believe that people make rational decisions and always make correct choices (6), but for many years now it is being noticed that this theory is... too theoretical (7). People make decisions under influence of multiple criteria, and paradoxically - most of these decisions are not rational (8). For example, each right to choose (let's say meat or fish) brings a responsibility. How do you choose healthy, healthiest food? How do you ensure that food you choose is not boring? WIll your husband really like it? What about children? And your waistline? And your wallet?
Finally, the process of choice itself requires time, attention and effort. So perhaps... we can outsource it to somebody who is expert? Popular recipe books and cooking shows? Nutrition consultants and doctors? New diet in the magazine? The research also shows this "dark side" of the choice freedom - people tend to transfer this so called "choice burden" to somebody else and experience pleasure related to that (5). When choice requires less effort, it becomes more attractive (4).
Choice of food is defined by physiology, gender, age, sensory sensitivity and accuracy (including supertasters), state of overall health, food appearance, smell, texture, taste, experienced boredom, irritation, disgust with specific food, food complexity or simplicity, comparing food and eating with the eating context ("is it adequate to drink expensive champagne when you only have dry bread at home?"), serving of the food (packaging, labels, size and shape of plate), environmental factors (lighting, company, image of the restaurant), perceived risk of eating food (affecting your health, weight, image, sometimes even life), established rules and norms, attitudes, beliefs, trust in chef or producer, cultural environment (time of the year, traditions, personal identification with specific culture), perceived mindfulness and importance of a specific action, habit of eating the specific foods, adjusting to context ("I'll have the same as everyone"), using food as means for other goals ("garlic, because I am sick", "oysters because aphrodisiac"), personal traits (including food neophobia - "I never eat the food that I do not know"), memories and past experiences, finally emotional motivation and rational arguments for decision (9). Phew! It is an effort enough to read through all of it, not to mention trying to control it all.
Even though this topic is really wide, and I will definitely come back to it - a short suggestion for now. Do not confuse freedom and being able to choose from ten kinds of sausage. You usually choose your food for different reasons than to demonstrate your freedom to choose. So choose to choose when it is important - because this freedom is more important than other choices. Choose something that is healthy, tasty and responsible - and definitely use your freedom to have a different opinion :)
My name is Monika, I am psychologist. I help to deal with daily and difficult questions about behavior, thinking, emotions. I write, counsel and teach. Book my talk to ask more!
1. Food and Freedom: https://cgspace.cgiar.org/bitstream/handle/10947/556/craw3.pdf?sequence.pdf
2. Food Choice: A Conceptual Model of the Process: http://baileynorwood.com/rcfp/files/GoodSource3.pdf
3. Factors affecting food choices of working mothers with young families: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022318212809174
4. When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?: https://faculty.washington.edu/jdb/345/345%20Articles/Iyengar%20%26%20Lepper%20(2000).pdf
5. Overchoice: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overchoice
6. The theory of decision making: https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/31144655/01_Edwards_1954.pdf
7. Allais paradox: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allais_paradox
8. CONSUMERS’ FOOD CHOICE AND QUALITY PERCEPTION: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Klaus_G_Grunert/publication/5092936_Consumers'_Food_Choice_and_Quality_Perception/links/00b7d5256e24280d1e000000.pdf
9. Diversity in the determinants of food choice: A psychological perspective: https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/35928966/Koster2009_diversity.pdf
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4: So where's psychology in eating?
Short answer is - everywhere. Habits. Choices. "Must have" wishes. Holidays. Gifts. Punishments. Non-verbal feeling expressions. Image (vegans, also). Happiness and serotonin. What tastes good and what is healthy, also what is trendy. Science of nutrition, I suspect, is much more about psychology than about physiology.
What we eat is most often NOT what body requires at the moment (even though we very often state that we have some kind of "energy boost", and this is why we crave for something sweet. "It's what the brain wants!"). Usually it is what we are used to eat. And habits is truly a meadow of psychology. Why do we have habits like we do is shaped by the culture, family traditions, significant events in our lives, significance that we assign to food and eating (compared to other activities), usual environment in which we eat - and the company of people, and a whole lot of other factors. By the way, we do not usually think about the reasons why we eat the way we do.
If we choose from several alternatives (choice, again, is the field of psychology), the final decision is shaped by the opinions and attitudes, environment (fast food stand on the street or Italian white tablecloth restaurant?), time e dedicate for eating ("quick bite"?), your prediction about opinion of other people about your choice (including whether you care at all), knowledge about digestion and nutrition ("if I avoid gluten, my skin will be fabulous"...), automatic thoughts ("I will be very weak if I don't eat right now"), time we spend choosing... Decision not to choose or choose the same thing every time is also a decision!
Food may be an important symbol and sign of well-being (Christmas roast, Sunday pancakes, coffee with friends or birthday cake). It also may be a lifelong punishment (like a crust on warm milk... "you are not going anywhere until you are finished with this!"), or a way to show special attention or enforce image (anything from mom's meatballs to Valentine's chocolates or desserts with diamonds). Childhood food leaves especially strong memories, and it consciously or unconsciously becomes our comfort (or punishment) food during times of distress (1). Even where physiology should rule, psychology still peeks from around the corner. After we eat fatty and sweet food (think ice cream), the brain rewards us with a dose of neuromediator serotonin (2, 3). At the same time we think - we are happy. And this happens every time, automatically, as if a button was pushed. And not really because we actually were short for something fat and sweet.
So... think before you put anything in your mouth. And why. It's all in your head!
My name is Monika, I am health and nutrition psychologist. I help to deal with daily and difficult questions about behavior, thinking, emotions. I write, teach and provide psychological counselling. Book my talk to hear load more about psychology in nutrition!
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1. If you are good you can have a cookie: How memories of childhood food rules link to adult eating behaviors: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rebecca_Puhl/publication/8679359_If_you_are_good_you_can_have_a_cookie_How_memories_of_childhood_food_rules_link_to_adult_eating_behaviors/links/0c96052f38db04e424000000.pdf
2.Serotonin, Eating Behavior, and Fat Intake: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.1550-8528.1995.tb00214.x/pdf
3. You Are What You Eat: How Food Affects Your Mood: http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/2011/02/you-are-what-you-eat-how-food-affects-your-mood/#.WJoLPPl969I
We choose food most often (statistically speaking) based on taste. There is also another, a wider concept - food reward, which is composed of food taste, decreasing of hunger, created pleasure (liking of food) and perceived motivation to eat (wanting). Food reward is a driver of amount o food we eat and commonly thought to be related to obesity. But perhaps food liking and wanting are interacting with weight in different ways?
People on a diet during this study had decreased food liking across all food categories, in one year after the study without any interventions - body weight was regained, appetit control weakened and food liking returned to initial level.
Overweight women (when compared to normal weight women) did not want high fat/sweet food more, but they wanted low fat/sweet food less.
Wanting low fat food was associated with improved appetite control and less fat mass, and wanting high fat food was associated with decreased appetite control and more fat mass.
👆 so, diets bring temporary results (we knew that, right?). If you want your eating method to be helpful in reaching your weight goal - make sure you choose the nicest words and definitions for your food (thus increasing your motivation), low-fat food in this case. Do not eve use anything that related to struggle, limitations, deprivation or similar. This is the expression of your utmost care and love for your body!
My name is Monika, I am health and nutrition psychologist. I help to deal with daily and difficult questions about behavior, thinking, emotions. I write, teach and provide psychological counselling. Book my talk to know more about psychology and food entanglement!
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Well, I read this one with one eyebrow raised and kept thinking about the children who demand that their foods do not touch in the plate. But the research is not about them. After reading at least three times and thinking about it for a bit longer, it does make some sense.
So, the research compares how people make assessments about the food that is served "separated" (all products in groups and not touching one another) or "mixed" (like in a salad or stew).
- participants believe that "separated" food is less caloric, even if it obviously is (for example, fried snacks)
- when eating "separated" food, participants eat more mindfully, they also believe that such food affects body weight more
- when eating "separated" food participants also control the amount of the consumed food more - even though here I keep thinking of parties and rivers of snacks flowing freely across the tables and plates; it is possible to eat more of the snacks than to have more salad that you need a spoon or fork to eat... then again, research was done in the lab, not at the party.
My conclusions are these. Whenever you can, eat with your hands (this is not part of this research, but you can control the amount of food you eat better, besides, you will get more pleasure out of eating). If possible - try eating food that is "separated" - not salads and stews, think poke bowls of buddha bowls direction. During parties (not fancy dinners, but talking and snacking parties) drink water, and if this does not sound like a plan - get yourself a plate for your portion of snacks, so you don't go foraging across the big platters.
And, bon appetit!
My name is Monika, I am health and nutrition psychologist. I help to deal with daily and difficult questions about behavior, thinking, emotions. I write, teach and provide psychological counselling. Book my talk to ask more!
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#spoonfulofreason #psychology #food #eating #perception #calories