General Health

How do Life Factors Dictate Food Choices?

The way we carry ourselves and our body weight are reflections of the quality and quantity of food we prefer. Food is an integral part of our life. Healthy nutritional habits play an important role in the prevention of chronic disease and enhance well‑being, longevity, mental potency and efficiency.

It is been bombarded over our heads in the real and virtual world that eating healthy is the need of this era. We get quick inspired by these pieces of interesting health news, blog and tips. We dedicatedly start eating healthy but are not able to continue the same. Despite our genuine health-conscious realizations and enlightenment, we fail to stick to the healthy eating pattern. We feel guilty and blame it on our weak willpower, ignoring the truth that eating habits are governed by various known and unknown factors.

What are the factors that govern food preferences?

Genetic factors and ethnicity

A lot of food likings are due to the genetic character we acquire from our earlier generations. These cannot be altered much forcibly or else causes negative effects on food choices. Individual ethenic beliefs also affect food appetency.

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Tips: Stick to the healthy dietary patterns and for not-so-healthy ones search for nutritious alternatives. Never pressurize yourself to modify these beliefs beyond your capacity.

Pre and Postnatal life 

Events in pregnancy and early life build food relationships. Studies suggest stress and poor maternal nutrition during pregnancy and infancy lead to lifelong opposing effects on the metabolism of food in the body. The metabolic status of the mother during pregnancy influences the brain functioning of the fetus. Early life experience has a major impact on early childhood food experiences.

Tips: Maintain a physically, nutritionally, mentally and emotionally adequate pregnancy and infancy. In case of any kind of stress, take help from the expert and rectify the issue as early as possible. During weaning introduce one food at a time and take guidance from a paediatrician rather than experimenting and following unauthentic viral tips.

Early life experiences

As per reports, initial life stressful memories affect food choices and also cause weight gain in adulthood. Any kind of stress in early life is a concern because it can have programming effects that intensify imbalanced responsiveness and handling of stress in adult life, contributing to mindless eating. Small modest differences in food intake or food choices in early life have lifelong consequences.

During childhood foundation of habits and preferences is made. At this phase, imitative and impulsive behaviour dominates, making children vulnerable to peer pressure. Positive or negative food habits, once made, shape the preferences and future choices of food throughout life.

Tips: Expose children to a variety of tastes including salty, sweet, sour, bitter and tasteless foods. Offer them a variety of food options but only one at a time. Counsel them regarding unhealthy food advertisements, junk foods and their long-term disadvantages. Motivate them not to indulge in distractions, especially virtual while eating. Guide them to enjoy their food and its mouthfeel, interact with them while eating and make their meal time a fun family time rather than a life struggling event.

Emotional indulgence

These have a significant role, mostly influenced by how product information is presented. At the point of purchase, several decision instincts and biases hinder rational decision behaviour. Product endorsement, done by the favourite public figures results in overvaluing the product benefit and false assumptions. This leads to an overestimation of self-control capacity and underestimating of the health risks associated with the choices made.

Tips: Get educated about the real health value of the food item and not get carried away by the marketing gimmicks.

Sensory Characteristics of food

The sight, smell and memory and expectation of food rule dietary choices. Uncontrollable attention is drawn by attractive high-caloric food cues, promoting greater food intake. The sight of appetizing food modulates brain activity in consistent ways. Viewing food items enhances the activation of visually related and reward-linked brain regions.

Tips: Always dig into finding out the nutritious side of food and decide whether it is going to be healthy in long term.

Affordability, availability and accessibility

While searching for food, the presence of many alternatives causes confusion and an inability to take optimal decisions. The pursuit of pleasure is the important driver of food decisions which overrules a balanced need-based mindset. Food selection and intake involve a complex involvement of higher brain functions including memory, learning and evaluation of different options.

Tips: Do not perceive food and its cost as a status symbol. Eat simple, easy to prepare and digest food options. Stop getting affected by unhealthy lucrative food displays and pictures.

Stress

It is a feature of modern life. Some people eat less when stressed, but most eat more thus if stress becomes chronic, then eating patterns become a coping strategy.

Tips: Learn to handle stress calmly and peacefully. Never use food as a stress-busting option. Consult an expert and manage stress as the top priority.

Depression

This causes an alteration in food intake, and this can result in a vicious circle of weight gain and depression progression.

Tips: Understand symptoms, internal feelings and emotions. Take help from a health guide and get cured in place of suffering ignorantly.

Physiological mechanisms of appetite control

Dietary decisions are regulated by circulating metabolic hormones, including those that signal to the brain about food intake and appetitive behaviours.

Tips: Get checked for hormonal imbalance, follow proper medical advice and find the remedy at right time.

Personality

Personality plays an important role in food choices. Unknowingly they rule food preferences and habits. They are not easy to detect, decode and deform. It takes a disciplined focused approach to fix personality-related food affections.

Neuroticism (Personality type -1)

  • These people show poor dietary choices like high susceptibility to hunger, inclination towards disinhibition, low intake of vegetables and fruits and interest in a convenient diet
  • Are unable to control their strong passionate desirable liking for food
  • Feel depressed and vulnerable to stress and choose unhealthy options
  • Adopt counter‑regulatory emotional eating and respond to negative emotions and stress through unfavourable food habits
  • Like salty, sour and fatty foods and have a low preference for milk and dairy products
  • Mostly prefer unhealthy tastes and foods to overcome negative feelings

Extraversion (Personality type -2)

  • They wish to prefer a healthy diet but show a positive affinity for fast foods, ice cream and chocolates
  • Are mostly social, warm, and loving and tend to participate in social groups
  • Portray positive emotions such as joy, happiness and love
  • Tend to eat varied snacks which offer them pleasure and boost their positive emotions

Openness (Personality type -3)

  • Generally, prefer a healthy diet
  • Consume a high amount of fruits and vegetables and a low amount of confectionary items and chocolate
  • Seek diversity and are flexible in actions and behaviours
  • Prefer unusual foods due to their intellectual curiosity and try to experiment with new foods
  • Favour novelty and diversity rather than routine activities
  • Like to consume food groups with higher variability

Agreeableness (Personality type -4)

  • Show low susceptibility to hunger
  • Do not like drinking soft drinks and sweetened fruit juices
  • Possess features such as trust, simplicity, and companionship and also have high potency in adaptation to new people and environment
  • Are successful in following the healthy dietary habits

Conscientiousness (Personality type -5)

  • Show healthy dietary habits and are less susceptibility to hunger
  • Like loyalty, success, making cautious decisions and feeling purposeful and determined mostly
  • Successful in accepting nutritional education and following the healthy dietary habits
  • Show a preference for milk and dairy products, vegetables and nuts
  • Do not like salty foods and biscuits, cake and cookies
  • Are mostly eager for achieving healthy dietary habits to avoid harmful consequences

Tips

  • Accept and realize the negative food habit
  • Get assessed for personality trait that is leading to unhealthy dietary habits
  • Seek advice from an expert and stop the unauthentic self-experiment
  • Use food to get nourishment and energy rather than making it a tool to suppress negative emotions
  • Talk to loved ones about the complication and be proactive to find the right solution
  • Inculcate positive hopefulness and show gratitude towards life

Conclusion

Food is not just a source for survival but it regulates the 360-degree dimension of life. It should never be taken for granted and underestimated. To be healthy in a real sense is to be true to inner-self and eat what is good for body, mind and soul at present and in future. It is ideal not to get controlled but to be own master to choose the conscious appropriate food path throughout the life.

References

  1. Nutrition Society Summer Meeting 2016 held at University College, Dublin on 11–14 July 2016

  2. International Journal of Preventive Medicine 2021, 12: 92

Author

Aparna Das Parmar

Aparna Parmar has over 8.5 years of rich experience in the field of nutrition and healthcare and is currently a corporate nutritionist.

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