Ecology of Eating
Part of knowing when to eat is our memory of our last meal. As time passes since we last ate, we anticipate eating again and start feeling hungry. There was a study done in 1998 where two patients with amnesia who had no memory for events occurring more than a minute ago were asked to eat a normal lunch. 20 minutes later they were offered another, and both readily consumed it. And a third 20 minutes later! This is one reason nutritionists recommend not eating while distracted. Savoring, taking note of the flavours, sensations, and textures of our meals help us determine when we’re full (avoiding eating beyond what we need) and remember eating in the first place.
Body cues and environmental factors also influence our taste preferences. When you feel tense or depressed, do you tend to take solace in high calorie foods? (Frequently, ardent football fans have done this after a big loss- Seriously, there was a study done on this lol.) Carbohydrates boost serotonin, which has calming effects on our body and brain. Our preferences for sweet and salty foods are universal- as they helped our ancestors locate high calorie foods that were essential for survival.
Other taste preferences are conditioned. Have you ever been sick after eating something and then acquired an aversion to that food…. same premise.
Culture affects taste preference too. We tend to avoid unfamiliar foods. This was adaptive for our ancestors, protecting them from potentially toxic substances. We can overcome this by repeatedly trying small amounts of unfamiliar food. This tends to increase appreciation for the new taste.
Situations also control our eating, called the ecology of eating.
- Friends: We tend to eat more when we’re with friends.
- Serving size: Larger portions induce bigger bites and increase intake by decreasing oral exposure time. When offered a larger portion size, people will eat more. And when kids eat off adult-sized dishware, they also tend to eat more.
- Stimulating selections: Food variety stimulates eating. Variety is healthy as it was for our ancestors as it meant a wide array of nutrients and minerals and it produced a protective fat for winter. When less was available, eating less extended the food supply until winter or famine ended. However, we have a constant wide array of foods to choose from and we tend to select more of them when we are offered a large variety.
[🎵Body Talks by The Struts plays in the background🎶]
Our bodies will let us know when we need something or when we’ve had enough. Vomiting is a great example of this. Usually involuntary, our body purges to rid us of potential harm.
We have signals that tell us when we’re hungry, thirsty and when we are satiated too. Unfortunately, we have been trained to ignore those signals.
“You’re hungry an hour before dinner, just wait. We’ll have dinner soon.”
“You can’t eat in class, wait for recess or lunchtime.”
“You must finish everything on your plate before you can leave the table.”
Over time, we have suppressed our hunger and fullness cues.
In the comments give me two examples of hunger cues.