Learning and accepting why we exercise certain eating behaviors is an inherently complex and often emotionally charged affair. As somewhat irrational beings, we have a tendency to attach emotional value to food and when we perceive that those values are being criticized we often become belligerent and disregard well-intentioned advice as ignorant or short sighted. However, understanding the many factors that influence our eating behavior is the first step to improving our health and is fundamental to making more sensible food choices. If nothing else, identifying the behavioral or social motives behind our habits will inspire greater awareness and promote accountability for our choices.
There are a myriad of reasons why we make the choices that we do. However, I have found that the most prominent influences in our eating behavior are personal preference, tradition and environment. Including a few sub-segments to each division: emotions, habits, values and ingrained associations to personal preference; culture, family and social interactions to tradition; and convenience, economy, health benefit and image ideals to environment further illustrates the multiplicity of factors that guide our food decisions. A simple illustration may clarify how these specific variables influence our decision-making.
Of coarse there are many other variables at work in our lives and several of these influencers have an impact on another, which makes it that much more important for us to understand our individual condition and the greatest motivators in our eating behavior. For example, familial or cultural influence may emphasize certain foods in time of celebration or mourning and can impart positive or negative associations with such foods. Eating cake to celebrate accomplishment and roast beef in the wake of death may impart a subconscious desire for sweets and an aversion to broiled meats. Another example, easy access to cheap, nutrient deficient food may result in family interactions dependent upon fast foods, which may have the unintended consequence of encouraging poor dietary habits that may result in illness.
Liabilities to Assets
To turn detrimental influencers to good account may take some diligence, but is the method that may prove the most beneficial to our health. Instead of driving through Krispy Kreme every morning for a coffee and donuts, get in the habit of waking ten minutes early to make a nice, comforting bowl of oatmeal. This slight change improve your health by adding a wealth of cholesterol lowering and fiber filled oats to your day, it will eliminate the large serving of sugar and fat that make have a tendency to weigh heavy on our body and spirit. Also, rewarding a job well done with a night at the movies (smuggling in healthy snack is encouraged here) instead of gorging on a massive ice cream sundae will still allow us to celebrate our accomplishments without empty and potentially harmful foods.
While these are just a few ideas based on my relatively limited life experience, identifying potentially harmful habits and developing alternatives that reinforce good decision-making is of paramount importance if we wish to avoid the repercussions of poor diet. However, we must always keep our efforts in perspective and remember that there is no one thing that will ensure health and longevity. The degree of our wellbeing is the result of the many actions we take on a daily basis and the accumulation of benefit from healthy habits we develop through self-awareness and reflection.