7 surprising influences on your daily food choices

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“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” 

Ann Wigmore, Lithuanian–American holistic health practitioner, naturopath and raw food advocate.

Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who has different eating habits from you? Or have you ever had an argument with someone in your family about them eating something you don’t agree with?

As my diet is rather different from most people’s (meat-free, low-carb, plant-based), I often end up being the odd one out wherever I eat. This often leads to conversations about the right or wrong kind of food – organic, non-organic, meat, fish, vegan, etc. I often fought for arguments that I believed were inevitably better for the planet and my body. And other people fought for their point of view.

Over the years, I realised that it isn’t about the outcome of our choices – it is about how much we care and dare to listen.

What does our health, our mood and our physical wellbeing say about our food choices? Notice how you feel with or without certain choices. Do you FEEL better or worse. Chase the feeling, not the calories or complex literature and opinions.

What has influences us to make these choices? (boredom, emotion and stressful triggers)

What are we afraid to lose if we had to make different choices? (comfort, addictions and vices)

If you ever try to get someone on the ‘right side’ of a food-choice, consider first to ask questions and listen before building up your argument.

And then avoid arguing by focussing on the source of the food you consume, the quality and by focusing on saturation, rather than restriction. I’m sure we can all agree on that.

Here are the 7 key areas that influence our decision making with food.

1. Our Culture, Heritage, Religion & Upbringing
2. Personal Taste
3. Moral and Ethical Beliefs
4. Cost and Accessibility
5. Social Normalisation & Food Trends (ideologies)
6. Health Reasons
7. Psychological choices: Mood, Feelings & Habits

7 influences on your food behaviours

1. Our Culture, Heritage, Religion & Upbringing

Even when eating alone, food choice is influenced by social factors because attitudes and habits develop through the interaction with others. France Bellisle, Head of Human Eating Behaviour at McDonalds, writes that other people have significant influence on our eating behaviours, either directly (buying food) or indirectly (learn from peer’s behaviour), either consciously (transfer of beliefs) or subconsciously. The family plays the biggest role in how we make food decisions.

What has your family chosen that you have adopted/rejected and why?

Food provides an important link to our cultural and religious heritage. It brings people together. Usually, a country has a ‘national dish’. Certain religions forbid to eat certain foods, eg. Hindus are vegetarian, the Jewish as well as the Muslim faith forbids pork to be eaten.

What spiritual or religious beliefs do you have that influence the thinking of ‘righteousness’?

2. Personal Taste

Taste’ is a major influence on food behaviour, according to Dr. Jane Clark. Taste is the sum of all sensory stimulation, which includes not only taste per se but also smell, appearance and texture of food. These sensory experiences influence in particular our spontaneous food choices. We may subconsciously associate a certain taste with childhood memories. That we prefer sweetness over bitterness seems to be an innate human trait, which is present from birth.

What are your food associated memories that influence your choices today?

3. Moral and Ethical Beliefs

For many people, it can be quite overwhelming to realize just how much suffering and injustice goes into the familiar products that line our store shelves. That’s why most of us don’t want to hear about these things.

Whether it’s the abuse of animals, the exploitation of workers, the failure to offer healthy foods, environmental devastation, or all of the above, there can be a temptation to throw up our hands in defeat and conclude that it’s just not possible to make ethical food choices.

Further, moral truths are inconvenient because they have an impact on our day-to-day routine and separate us from other people. So we avoid it. If you are interested in identifying particularly “bad actors” in the corporate world about ethical food choices, click HERE.

Effectively, questioning our food moral is “more than just ‘should I eat meat or not?’ It’s a question of the way we produce meat. Right now food production is incredibly inhumane, but it’s also incredibly unsustainable,” says McGregor, who teaches philosophy in ASU’s School of Philosophical, Historical, and Religious Studies. The extensive meat consumption and meat production creates a cascade of effects that all cause environmental damage such as high amounts of water consumption, methane gas production, unsustainable land-use, high doses of antibiotics to regulate the animal welfare, etc.

Some people substitute seafood for meat. But the problem with fish is that especially large fish contain significant levels of mercury and are overfished, according to a series of studies such as conducted by Elijah Stommel of Dartmouth College in Hanover. Mercury is a pollutant that directly enters your brain, and effectively destroys neurological networks. It is a strong toxin that can literally burn holes into your body. If we continue consuming fish that is not sustainably caught, our oceans will be empty in 2048.

Our ethical food choices always impact both our bodies, and the body of the earth.

How much do you know about where your food comes from and how it’s been produced?

4. Cost and Accessibility

There is no doubt that the cost is a primary determinant of our food choices. Whether the cost of food is prohibitive depends fundamentally on a person’s income and their status. Low-income groups have a greater tendency to consume unbalanced diets and in particular have low intakes of fruit and vegetables.

Further, research shows that a prize reductions automatically lead to an increase of buyers – regardless whether it’s apples or ice-cream on offer. Unfortunately, processed food is invariably cheaper than healthy food, and intensively farmed produce is cheaper than organic and high animal welfare meat.

Accessibility to shops is another important factor influencing food choice. Healthy food tends to be more expensive when available within towns and cities compared to supermarkets on the outskirts.

How good is your access to healthy fresh food and vegetables?
Are there ways you could access healthy food from further away, such as through vegetable boxes?

5. Social Normalization & Food Trends

Food trends can be a big deal when it comes to choosing what we eat. Dr. Morgaine Gaye, food futurologist, says they often start from humble beginnings – a recipe book, blog or menu, or a newly declared superfood, which catches the eye of enough people. Demand is quickly met by shops, cafes and restaurants, which makes it even more accessible and before we know it.

Eating is greatly influenced by our environment, our desire to be approved and accepted. Further, there is social bias about what a healthy diet looks like. In multiple surveys across countries about dietary health, 71% of people believed that their diets are already adequately healthy. The lack of need to make dietary changes, suggest a high level of optimistic bias, which is a phenomenon where people believe that they are at less risk from a hazard compared to others.

What food trends are you following?
Are you judging any food trends?

6. Health Reasons

Obesity is a serious health concern, such as stated by the W.H.O., as it can lead to a series of diseases and significantly can decrease life-expectancy. One of the biggest weapons against obesity is to eat a high protein, low-carb diet and stay on it forever, which significantly impacts a person’s food choices.

Other health reasons that lead to different food choices are allergies and intolerances. Even though ‘gluten free’ might also just be a trend, there is an increasing number of people with food intolerances, states Dr. Stephen Taylor, Professor and Co-Director of the University of Nebraska Food Allergy Research & Resource Program. According to research wheat and dairy intolerances are probably as a result of genetic modification of wheat, and the use of pesticides and an overconsumption of milk with all that coffee we drink.

What health reasons do you have that suggest to improve your diet?

7. Psychological Choices: Mood, Feelings & Habits

Hippocrates was the first to suggest the healing power of food, however, it was not until the middle ages that food was considered a tool to modify temperament and mood. Today it is recognised that food influences our mood and that mood has a strong influence over our choice of food. Interestingly, it appears that the influence of food on mood is related in part to attitudes towards particular foods.

The ambivalent relationship with food – wanting to enjoy it but conscious of weight gain is a struggle experienced by many. stress induced changes in eating and food choice are motivational differences (reduced concern about weight control), physiological (reduced appetite caused by the processes associated with stress) and practical changes in eating opportunities, food availability and meal preparation.

 CALL TO EMBODIMENT

If you haven’t already, take about fifteen minutes and journal on the following questions:

What does our health, our mood and our physical wellbeing say about our food choices?

What has influences us to make these choices?

What are we afraid to lose if we had to make different choices?

What has your family chosen that you have adopted/rejected and why?

What spiritual or religious beliefs do you have that influence the thinking of ‘righteousness’?

What are your food associated memories that influence your choices today?

How much do you know about where your food comes from and how it’s been produced?

How good is your access to healthy fresh food and vegetables?

Are there ways you could access healthy food from further away, such as through vegetable boxes?

What food trends are you following?

Do you judge any food trends?

What health reasons do you have that suggest to improve your diet?

Evidence-based research

France Bellisle, Head of Human Eating Behaviour at McDonalds

Dr. Jane Clarke: Taste and flavour: their importance in food choice and acceptance. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

Elijah Stommel of Dartmouth College in Hanover: Study on mercury levels in fish

Dr De Irala-Estevez: A systematic review of socioeconomic differences in food habits in Europe: consumption of fruit and vegetables

Dr. Steven Taylor on food intolerances 

Other sources of conversation

How we make food-choices:

Why do we eat what we eat? 

Culture and Heritage influence on food-choice

Ethical Food Choices

Impact of money on food choice

W.H.O. Concerns and mitigations about the global obesity epidemic 

Food intolerances

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