Healthy lifestyle
How the Environment Influences Your Eating Habits

How the Environment Influences Your Eating Habits

Talking to people about food will every time get on a land of different opinions. In theory we all know that food describes us in the way we feel, behave and maintain body and mind health. The quality of food, life style and environment are a mix that contribute altogether to our body health, addiction and gain weight. It’s not just about the willpower or the addiction that modern food or junk food plants in our brain, it’s about the eating habits we develop since little children. As kids, we eat what our parents are eating or what we are given, mostly processed food, snacks and food that are far away from feeding our bodies.

Without even knowing this we develop a bad habit, like some mornings without breakfast or eating chips and popcorn in front of the favorite TV show. The next thing you know is that you are the victim of the system you are living in, and this can equal with weight gain, nutrition diseases and, as a millennial new disease, an addict of diets that takes you more or less to orthorexia.

The worst part of all this behavior is that you might even not realize how much influences has the environment on you launch and on your diet. Below, you have some of the most common eating and lifestyle habits that can cause you to pack some pounds.

The place you eat

This is one of the major factors around you that may stay in your way when you try to develop healthy eating habits. The places you choose to eat and actually the habits you develop look sometimes that they are beyond your control. The restaurant you choose, the lunch you eat in front of your laptop at work and even the way the food is presented to you by the culture you live in, all have a serious impact on your decisions.

Every time you realize some of this factors that can affect you health and eating habits, you actually are one step further to have control on your health, nutrition and life. Most of us are just creatures of habit. We buy the same foods, we go to the same grocery stores and prefer the same restaurants. We are some how trapped in our familiar routines. But if you are concerned about eating healthier, you need to change some of these bad habits and start thinking about your lifestyle and if it isn’t really nice to try that new restaurant your friends are talking about. Sometimes looks like we are comfortable in our ways and looks very hard to give up those habits.

Many people are skeptical about changing their diets because they have grown accustomed to eating or drinking the same foods, and there is a fear of the unknown or trying something new

says John Foreyt, PhD, director of the Baylor College of Medicine Behavioral Medicine Research Center.

eating habits

Even when you realize that you must change something, old habits will die hard. This is mainly because the habits become automatic over time, learned behaviors, and the new ones are not so strong as much as you try to incorporate in your life. There are a lot of people that manage to change their eating habits, but a big percentage of them can easily fall back on their old ways during periods of depression, loneliness or stress. Dr. Foreyt says that this situation requires attention and is the same as you want to quick smoking or quitting sugar. You must first realize what you are passing through and have the correct approach. So tackling bad habits and exercise new ones requires 3 steps:

  1. Beware of the habits you want to change and write them down; it can be something like “stop buying 2 hot dogs every morning” or” buy just one burger a week”.
  2. Try to figure out why you have these habits; it may be a social thing, it may be your addiction to sugar or sensations or just something you do it because friends or colleagues do it.
  3. Figure how you can slowly change these bad habits and exercise new ones; you may not see any progress in the first days, but this is actually working. Your mind needs time to learn your body to live without that big-ultra-mega-cappuccino you buy at noon. You may experience some hard days, but try to remember that is actually your mind that tries to fool you and that has an addiction.

Related to the places you eat today, there is bad food all over the place. You can find food in gas stations, at any sporting event, at school or office and just in any place you are around the day. These situations give your mind a constant temptation and more likely you end up buying some bad, processed food. More, if you work in a place where you don’t have many options – just the same convenience store or fast-food – you don’t have many options and hunting a healthier option can be very difficult.

Even if you don't like the food, you may end up eating it if the environment encourages it. Click To Tweet

A test made with popcorn, stated that people will eat the same amount of popcorn while sitting in a movie theater just because the environment triggers this behavior. This means that willpower and good intentions are not enough. We need to trick our brains by carefully controlling the environment and stay in alert most of the time. Next time you go to a restaurant try some small trick for the beginning:

  • try to find a table near the window; this has a lot more to do in ordering more vegetables
  • avoid having dinner near the bar or the candy-bar. For sure you will be tempted to order dessert
  • find a restaurant with soft background music; try to listen to the music and don’t focus so much on food. You will end-up eating fewer calories.

Advertising, TV and Internet

As I mentioned before, the informational channels and cultural heritage has a lot of influence on what we are eating. Today, the advertising got smarter, internet and social media are dominating any minute through mobile devices, and we end up buying things that we had no idea that we need. All researches made on TV commercial for snacks or fast-food products show an increasing consumption of these kind of foods.

Ads are one of the best triggers and food companies know this fact. They are made by brilliant people and they know to associate products with good vibes, showing celebrities that enjoy the products.

We live in a world of advertising. It is a world of our making, of course. We don’t like to pay the full price of things, so we allow other people to pay part of that price in exchange for letting them pass a message to us. The reason that we accept all this advertising is because we assume that we can tune most of it out. If we don’t pay attention to the ads, then they won’t have that much of an affect on our behavior or eating habits. Sure, the makers of commercials can try to jack up the volume, but at least we have the right to look away.

We usually assume that advertising functions mostly to tell us about the properties of a product. A particular beverage might advertise that it has less sugar from competitors lets say, that it tastes better, and that it is also cheaper. We believe that these properties are ones that will help us to choose the beverage for our next barbecue.

However, these kind of ads also do other things. One thing they do is to take a product and to put it next to lots of other things that we already feel positively about. For example,  the ad you can see here is an ad for a well known burger Carl’s Jr. All of these things you see are ones that most of us probably feel pretty good about already. Nice car, hot blonde and music that makes you dance and be in that movie. Repeatedly showing the burger with other things that makes you feel good, you will end up feeling good about the burger, too.

This transfer of our feelings from one set of items to another is called affective conditioning.

Affective conditioning is described as the transfer of our feelings from one set of items to another. It is commonly used in advertising and is the belief that if you advertise your product with things the public associates with positively, it will sell better.  An advertisement’s visual or audio content generates positive feelings. In the end, the purpose of advertising is to influence the brand choice process.  Thus, this happens without us knowing this.

Affective conditioning is most effective when you don’t realize that it is happening. Click To Tweet

Advertising exploits visual and auditory influence on a consumer’s subconscious mind and emotions with the only purpose to influence people’s ways of thinking, eating habits as well as spending money on the products. Memory plays an important role in the subconscious of consumers. Psychological tactics used in advertising include self-esteem, sex appeal, buzz words, personal enjoyment and guilt association.

Harry Hollingworth was one of the first psychologists to bring psychology into the advertising world. Through his extensive studies, he believed that advertising had to accomplish four things:

  1. Attract a consumer’s attention
  2. Focus the attention onto the message
  3. Make the consumer remember the message and
  4. Cause the consumer to take the desired action (this really determined the effectiveness of an ad)


Empirical studies on the interaction of music and the hierarchy of advertising effects, or specifically attention, memory, attitudes and purchase intention have proven that music plays a vital role in the interactive process of consumer behavior.

Psychologists and neurologists who study the effects of music on the brain have found that music with a strong emotional connection to the listener becomes memorable.   It was this discovery that led marketers to license pop songs for advertising instead of using original jingles.  A brand’s identity is comprised of visual, auditory and other sensory components that create recognition in the mind of the consumers.  The power of music has the ability to seduce the soul, raise the spirit, build social connections, wiggle our bodies to the rhythm, increase purchases, as well as develop, strengthen and recognize the brands.

Food packaging

Marketers are fully aware of these effects and they use them to their advantage. The same thing is when we talk about packaging. The way the food is packaged has a huge impact on the way we choose to buy. Try to look at organic food and you will notice that come in simple, economical packaging while the most of the foods are displayed in bright colors with vivid imagery.

Colorful packaging can determine where a shopper’s eye land on the pack or on the shelf. More, the designs can predetermine how long the buyers spend looking at certain option(like ingredients) and influence, in the end, selection of a product in front of the others together with eating habits.


The halo effect – judging a product by its label

The “halo effect” is a cognitive bias that convinces us that a product has more valuable traits over others simply because the perception of that product has been subtly altered. Usually this happens with organic foods that tend to be surrounded by this health halo effect that is not always based on science or research. Psychologists have long recognized that the way we perceive a particular trait of a person can be influenced by how we perceive other traits of the same individual. An example of this would be judging an attractive person as intelligent, just because he or she is good-looking. A growing literature suggests that the halo effect may also apply to foods, and ultimately influence what and how much we eat.

People often assume that if the foods are healthy in one aspect (such as for the environment and farm workers), they are virtuous in all ways—even though this is not the case.

Just because you bought a cereal bar from bio shelf doesn't mean it's better for you Click To Tweet

Simply put, the health halo effect leads people to overestimate the overall healthfulness of a food based on one narrow attribute. Health halos are proven to cause people to eat more food than they intended, such as eating two organic cookies when you would normally only eat one nonorganic cookie. Studies have shown that people eat far more low-fat foods than they do traditional versions. The same also is true for people with diabetes who eat too many sugar-free foods, inaccurately believing that if they are sugar free, they are either low in carbohydrates or carbohydrate free.

People you eat with

The people who you eat your meals with can have a powerful effect on what you choose to put on your plate and into your mouth. The Harvard School of Public Health says that many of the food preferences you take into adulthood are based on what your family of origin ate as you grew up. This is why is very important as a parent to be careful about the food you give to your kids. It influence the adult behavior and future generation crave for sugar, fast-food or other modern foods.

Depending on this heritage from your family, you may gravitate towards meals that reflect your food background. While foods that come from your heritage may be delicious, they aren’t always the most nutritious option you can find. We all know how goods are the spicy chicken wings grandma used to make or that candies uncle brought when he came in visit.

Social pressure can be overwhelming, and you may not even realize that you’re giving into these pressures, especially when you’re in a casual, comfortable environment surrounded by your peers.

For decades philosophers have suspected that behaviors can be “contagious.” In the 1930s, the Austrian sociologist Jacob Moreno began to draw sociograms, little maps of who knew whom in friendship or workplace circles, and he discovered that the shape of social connection varied widely from person to person. Some were sociometric “stars,” picked by many others as a friend, while others were “isolates,” virtually friendless. In the 1940s and 1950s, social scientists began to analyze how the shape of a social network could affect people’s behavior;

Just think how these days social networks influence your overall behavior: your spare time, your friends, your work and even the way you interact with food. A lot of your friends are posting their meals on Instagram or Facebook and forget that they are at the restaurant to eat and talk with family or friends. This new fashion has a big impact on the way we look at food nowadays.

A study found that there is a big influence on your weight that is strictly related with your friends. If one of your friend is gaining weight it is probably that so will you.

There are elements of dining rooms that actually prime you to eat more food.  One such element is the weight of those dining with or near you. The study found that the body type of your dining partner, or that of those dining nearby, may actually influence how much you serve yourself and how much you order or eat.

You may also be influenced by the choice of you friends. You may have gone into the meal with the purest intentions of eating light and healthy, but once you start hearing what everyone else will be having, you find yourself ordering something else.

The best way to counteract these forces is to go into meals with a game plan.

Know what you’re going to eat beforehand, and try to stick to it. If you have to actually make the effort to announce to your friends that you won’t be swayed by their food decisions, do so. It may be a hard decision, but is not a bad thing to have only the salad or eat just one burger.

You can even try this tip: order first, or prepare your food before others do. If you’ll be at a party where the food selection may be limited to the unhealthy foods prepared by the hosts, it may be not so polite to bring your food, but you can take small pieces of each dish that is served.

Final word

Now in conclusion, we all want to stay as healthy as possible so the first step is to recognize the way the environment can influence you into making food choices and establish eating habits. You can figure the best ways to combat and overcome the overwhelming temptations you are served each day.

Eating habits, the social networks, television, all of these may seem as though they’re uncontrollable. But equipped with the right knowledge, you’ll be able to recognize the effects they have on your decision making and choose more wisely from now on.

Please feel free to share the way you combat this temptations. Do Facebook for exemple have influence on your decisions in food buying? What about Instagram?

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