Understanding Diet Psychology – What Influences Our Eating?
What comes to mind when you think of food?
Of course, most of us eat when we’re hungry – but diet psychology goes way beyond just hunger.
Food can invoke fond memories of cooking with your mother or grandmother.
Food can cause feelings of comfort, or contentedness – or guilt.
When you study for a registered holistic nutrition diploma at the Edison Institute Of Nutrition, one of the many courses you’ll take is in diet psychology.
After all, if you want to help your clients improve their eating habits and manage chronic illness, you’ll need to understand their eating habits.
The issues around diet psychology are just one of the hurdles your holistic nutrition clients will face.
What factors play a role in diet psychology?
Keep reading to learn more.
What Is The Psychology Of Dieting?
The psychology of eating and dieting are all of the factors going into decisions about what we eat, when we eat, and how much we eat.
Food is meant to nourish us, of course.
However, we also want it to taste good and have a beneficial impact on quality of life.
In theory, we want to eat things that make us feel good.
However, there is often a dissonance between eating foods that fuel us and leave us feeling our best and eating delicious foods which perhaps aren’t as healthy and leave us feeling unwell.
Understanding the psychology behind what we eat can help lead to better choices.
When your clients understand why they eat, you’ll have an easier time helping them:
- Manage depression naturally
- Manage eczema naturally
- Naturally control fear
- Improve mental capacity
- Manage arthritis naturally
- Manage stress naturally
- And much more
More broadly speaking, it can help your clients enjoy a better body image, manage chronic fatigue, and enjoy higher overall levels of health.
And, of course, a more positive relationship with food.
What Influences Our Eating Behaviours?
If we only ate when we were hungry, and then stopped when full, people probably wouldn’t have as many issues with food as we do.
Sure we would need to ensure we’re getting the appropriate nutrients in the food we do eat.
But we wouldn’t have issues with overeating, obesity would likely go way down, and food probably wouldn’t be such a source of guilt for so many people.
However, there are several other factors going into why we eat – hunger is just one of them.
Let’s take a look at some of the factors influencing our eating behaviours.
1. Being Hungry
If you ask people why they eat, hunger is probably number one on the list.
As humans, we require energy to function – energy we get from the calories in the food we eat.
We also need nutrients for our bodies to function – this also comes mostly from our food.
As we eat, we experience satiety, or a feeling of fullness, based on the energy density of the foods we choose.
Being hungry is obviously a factor in why we eat, but it’s hardly the only one.
Did you know feeling hungry can be an indication for the need to drink more water? Water fills the stomach and quiets the Ghrelin hormone that triggers hungry, giving you time to make a healthy choice.
2. Tasting Good
Very rarely when people go back for a second slice of cake, or another handful of chips is it because they’re still hungry.
Instead, it’s because it tasted good.
Taste goes beyond just whether something is sweet, salty, sour, or bitter.
It’s a combination of all sorts of sensory stimulation related to food, including smell, texture, and appearance.
If you’ve ever been drawn toward the kitchen because someone was cooking something that smelled good, or felt your mouth watering because of a picture of food, you know these factors can all influence the taste of food.
3. Cultural & Social Background
Cultural influences can affect both what people eat, and what they don’t.
Some cultures celebrate holidays and other celebrations with large, lavish meals.
Others restrict people from eating certain types of food, such as pork or ham.
Keeping these social and cultural factors in mind will be important when working with your clients.
4. Social Context
Social situations can have a huge impact on what people eat.
Who hasn’t been encouraged to have another helping of a dish when at a social function, even if they aren’t feeling hungry?
Or ordered a glass of wine because others were ordering a drink?
On the other side of this, people are often more likely to make healthier food choices if they notice others around them doing the same.
For instance, if you work in a place where most people are eating healthier lunches on a regular basis, you may find yourself reaching for healthier options as well, in order to “fit in” better.
5. Psychological Factors
We’ve all heard of “stress eating” when under pressure, or using ice cream to ease the pain of a bad breakup.
These are examples of psychological factors which can impact our eating habits, however, they have different effects on different people.
Take stress for example; some people when under high stress will cope by eating a lot more than usual, yet in other people it will cause a reduction in appetite.
In addition, food has long been thought to have healing powers and used as a way to alter mood.
While there are some foods that reduce anxiety naturally, that isn’t generally what we reach for.
Rather, we go for whatever food serves as comfort for us – which is usually not the healthiest option.
6. How Much It Costs
For low income individuals especially, the cost of food plays a huge role in what types of food they are willing to purchase.
While eating healthy on a tight budget is of course possible, many people aren’t aware of how to do it properly.
A parent may opt to continue purchasing the same foods their children are used to rather than trying to introduce new, healthier options for fear the new foods will be rejected.
There may also be worried about the possibility of fresher foods such as fruits and vegetables going bad, or a reluctance to purchase better quality food items instead of less expensive, but shelf stable, alternatives.
7. The Presence Of An Eating Disorder
The development of eating disorders generally stems from an individual’s desire to lose weight or otherwise control their body shape.
Factors which can lead to eating disorders include stress, anxiety, distorted self image, and low self esteem.
8. Education & Bias
In a European study on consumer attitudes towards food, individuals with higher levels of education were more likely to indicate “health” as a factor when choosing foods.
In addition, those who feel their diets are healthy are less likely to be influenced to change their eating habits for health reasons.
9. Other Factors
Other factors which can affect what we eat include:
- Availability of food, and access to healthy foods
- Cooking skills and time required to prepare meals
- Beliefs about which foods are healthful.
How Can You Address This In Your Clients As A Registered Holistic Nutritionist?
As a registered holistic nutritionist, it’s up to you to understand which of these elements is affecting your clients’ eating habits.
Getting a better understanding of these can help you to write an appropriate meal plan for them.
If someone grew up in a family with lower income, for example, they may have grown up eating a lot of fast food items.
Others might go to certain foods in times of extreme stress.
We know removing those items is the ideal situation for their health, but it’s not enough just to tell them to eat fewer cheeseburgers.
They have an emotional connection to food, regardless of how unhealthy it is.
It’s your job to find a way to help them understand why they eat the way they do and explore options which might trigger a similar emotional connection without the harm.
From a purely nutrition based perspective, you can provide an ideal plan for your clients.
But if you don’t have a good understanding of the other factors at play which influence your clients’ eating habits, you’ll have a hard time getting them to follow through with the plan you provide.
Contact The Edison Institute Of Nutrition
Have you been considering switching your career and training to become a registered holistic nutritionist?
Are you tired of your current career and want to get into something where you feel like you’re making a difference?
Did you read the above article and find yourself wanting to know more?
Just one of the many holistic nutrition courses we offer as part of our diploma program is “Diet Psychology”, where you’ll learn more about the emotional consciousness behind harmful eating patterns.
Practicing as a registered holistic nutritionist is a great way to feel like you’re making a difference in peoples’ lives.
To find out more about how to begin your training as a registered holistic nutritionist, contact the Edison Institute of Nutrition today.
You’ll get a chance to speak with a counsellor who will help you understand your options and whether studying holistic nutrition is right for you.