The answer to that question is not as simple as you may think! Surprised? As a health conscious person, you may think that you have all the aces and make your food choices consciously. However, the influences that really make the decisions for you are complicated and varied. Research shows that on average, a person makes about 227 food choices daily and 95% of those are made unconsciously!
Physiological, environmental, social, educational, hormonal, emotional, visual and olfactory influences, to a large extent, all conspire to override our frontal cortex (where our conscious lies) and manipulate our food choices. Let us analyze some of these in turn and see how they work so that we can change our choice architecture and take control of our consumption habits to purposely eat healthier and wiser by changing our appetite chemistry.
Psychological and visual Influences:
Take a good look at how supermarkets arrange their shelves. You may notice that adult products are placed higher than the foods targeted at kids, for example cereals so that they can be at eye level for the targeted buyer. There is a scientific reason for this. Studies have shown that eye contact increases brand choice and affects what we buy or consume. There is a deliberate attempt to influence your thinking by the way items are arranged.
On a practical level, the visuality of the way foods are arranged in our kitchen will influence what you reach for first when you want a quick bite. If your kitchen counter is packed with sodas and cookies, you are more likely to consume more of these by pure instinct. If you cannot avoid buying sugary foods in the first place, a good way to counter (pun intended) this is to consciously replace these things with healthier choices; milk for fizzy drinks and a fruit bowl for the cookie packs, for example.
By hiding the unhealthy foods in the cupboards, you and your family are less prone to impulsively eat them! You have basically influenced your appetite for these foods by making a simple conscious choice of your storage habits. You get the drift? Let us try another influence specially mentioned for the athlete for good measure.
Genetics and hormonal makeup also has a significant role in what we feel like eating. While most of our hormonal makeup is influenced by what we inherit in our genes from our parents, the balance between them changes over time and in certain situations. Sleep depravity is one of these situations. It has been proven that sleep debt increases our levels of cortisol and ghrelin with detrimental effects to our choices.
A high cortisol level induces stress. The result is that our will power is diminished in the temptation to seek out foods that reward our bodies negatively. You will be more inclined to eat sugary and high fat foods to compensate and achieve that feel good factor. Similarly, ghrelin increases hunger and makes us more susceptible to bad food choices due to the immediate need to satisfy that hunger. Amazing how not sleeping well can lead to such imperceptive results.
On the other hand, you can reap immense rewards from any aerobic exercise that increases the oxygen levels in your body. Apart from keeping fit, the outcome is the opposite and actually reduces the brain responses pertaining to food reward. You will experience less food cravings which allow you greater willpower in what you chose to eat, thus having a greater capacity to make healthy food choices.
In conclusion, learning to overcome the negative influences external and internal stimuli have on our food choice will lead to a leaner healthier you! And this can be as simple as sleeping well and maintaining a healthy lifestyle through running and walking regardless of athletic ability or experience. In this way, you can truly and consciously be in charge of what you eat.