Have you ever wondered why you choose to eat the things that you do? For many people, the answer to that question is no. The majority of the population will move through life selecting foods that are pleasurable to them in that brief moment without a second of thought about it. What if it was more complicated than that, and there were a host of things operating behind the scenes that were driving you to pick certain foods? The truth is that there are a variety of things that you may have never considered that influence the choices that you make every day in relation to your diet. Below are some less known influencers of our eating habits.
A food environment is defined as biological, physical, or social factors that affect a person’s eating habits and patterns. Examples of different environments include your home, neighborhood, or break room at work. This could also encompass different settings like Thanksgiving dinner, lunch meeting with friends, or going to a baseball game. All of these places have their own built in characteristics that may influence the types of foods that a person chooses to eat. Some of these are more obvious, like a ball park serving processed hot dogs, but others may be more subliminal. Take for example, your neighborhood. If you live in a location that has fast food restaurants on every corner but the nearest grocery store is 5 miles away, you are far more likely to eat fast food than you are to shop for fresh food.
While you may not be able to control every food environment that you enter each day, there is one that you are in complete control of – your home. The foods that you choose to keep in your house are likely to be the foods that you will eat. If you possess a freezer full of frozen pizza and processed food, you will likely eat frozen pizza and processed food. If you keep a bowl of fruit on the counter that you walk by 20 times a day, you are far more likely to grab an apple at some point. This may seem simple, but the foods that you see regularly and are easily accessible are the ones that you will eat habitually.
The human digestive tract is home to tens of thousands of different species of bacteria. These types of bacteria are helpful to the human body and assist with many functions including breaking down food and keeping harmful bacteria out. Just like no two humans are identical, the same thing can be said about the types of bacteria that live in each person’s gut. For example, the microscopic creatures that live in the gut of someone that eats a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein may look radically different than someone that eats a diet high in processed and fast food. It is important to keep in mind that these bacteria are living beings and carry out certain functions to ensure their safety and survival. What does this mean? The type of bacteria that you have living in your gastrointestinal tract right now may influence taste receptors in your brain to make certain foods taste better to you or can release hunger inducing hormones to control your eating behaviors. So, are you hungry or is it your gut bacteria? Learn more about the microbiome HERE.
We all know that our eating habits are shaped from an early age, but did you know that it is possible that they may have been formed while we were still in the womb? Some studies show that babies born to mothers that eat a diverse diet full of a wide variety of different flavors may pass those preferences onto their child. For example, mothers who eat processed and sugary foods have shown that their offspring are desensitized to sweet and fatty foods. This altered pathway in their children is similar to a person that is addicted to drugs, in that they require a higher dose to get the same reward as someone else. This is important information to consider, as a mother’s food choices while carrying the child and subsequently breast feeding may have lasting effects long into the child’s life.
What Does This Mean?
All of this information means that there are many things going on behind the scenes that drive a person’s dietary preferences. Things are not as clear-cut as we may of once thought, and the foods that an individual likes are not random, but more so developed due to a range of different influences. If we start to learn why we eat in a certain way, we can then be more proactive about changing some of our habits. If we can step back and look at the bigger picture, it may just help us make the changes that we need.