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Nutritional Psychology – Why we eat what we eat

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Have you ever snacked out of boredom or continued eating even though you were actually already full, but it just tasted so good? Our eating behavior is complex and subject to a number of factors. In this article, you’ll learn what role our psyche plays in this.

Eating is more than just taking in food

We need to eat in order to absorb energy. From a biological point of view, therefore, it is a matter of supplying vital nutrients so that the organism has the building blocks available for our body and its processes. However, our diet has long been dependent not only on biological aspects, but also on cultural, economic and, above all, psychosocial ones. As a rule, we rarely eat out of hunger anymore.

How we decide what to eat

Babies and toddlers know exactly what their organism needs and have a corresponding craving and feeling of fullness. However, this intuitive eating behavior is quickly unlearned. Over time, other factors come to the fore, determining whether we decide to eat the salad or the steak, and whether or not to treat ourselves to another piece of chocolate. One study found that our decision regarding food is rarely determined by hunger itself. Above all, we eat because it tastes good, because it’s convenient, cheap, because it looks so tempting, out of habit or because we want to evoke positive feelings. For example, we eat more in good company than we would alone. But we also have a firm grip on learned habits, such as eating a bag of chips in front of the TV or craving dessert after eating something hearty. We have forgotten to listen to our bodies and allow ourselves to be influenced by a variety of other aspects. Right at the front of the pack: our emotions.

Emotions influence our eating behavior and vice versa

Our psyche and our eating behavior influence each other reciprocally, because our emotions play a special role in eating. Take sugar, for example: Sweet is a preferred flavor from birth, as it promises us energy and strength in the form of sugar. Our brain reacts accordingly. The mere thought of something sweet or the sight of it activates our reward system, but especially when we then actually eat it. Dopamine is released, so we get a good feeling and want more of it. That’s why we often overindulge in sweets when we’re feeling bad or depressed. Breaking this link is not so easy and is shamelessly exploited by the industry by adding considerable amounts of sugar to even supposedly savory foods. In addition, food producers know exactly what appeals to our taste cells and train us from an early age. The ratio of the nutrient composition is particularly crucial. For example, a product with 35% fat and 45% carbohydrates is perceived as particularly tasty. The recipe for potato chips, for example, is based on this and this addictive factor is created, so that we don’t stop until the bag is empty.

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