what factors affect your food choices?

what factors affect your food choices?

Did you know that sometimes you make decisions unconsciously, without any kind of conscious cognitive effort whatsoever? In matters of great urgency, your emotions kick in to warn you of possible dangers and to avert disaster. It is a way of making decisions very quickly, when you don’t have time to go through the decision making process. A gut feeling, perhaps.

It is useful in an evolutionary sense to avoid foods that might be poisonous and need a quick sensory decision to be made before they are consumed.

Thoughts – – – > feelings – – – – > behaviour

I had always been taught that your thoughts lead to emotions, and while that may be true as well, I always disagreed, and thought that you could have a whole heap of ‘feelings’ without your mind being involved in it whatsoever, or only as far as being an observer of your emotions. This does seem to be the case, as found in more recent psychological research. [1] Furthermore, your behaviour is often not the result of your attitude or thoughts at all, but just based on past history.

What does this have to do with food and eating? Well, it means that often you will make decisions about food that are unconscious, and not based on a rational decision making process at all. If someone were to ask you, why you chose a particular food, you might come up with some kind of rationalisation, but it would just be a story, and it is just as likely that you based your decision on factors such as habit or past behaviour, than some complex decision making process involving values.

table laid with wine and oysters

Food choices – from conception

According to the research a LOT of our preferences for food come from the stage in our life when we were in the womb, or drinking breast milk. If your mother ate a lot of different things when she was pregnant with you, you probably have a wider variety of tastes than someone who was nutritionally restricted during pregnancy. Furthermore your specific tastes now and when you were a child were influenced by what your mother ate when you were a growing baby. Apparently babies in the womb taste the flavours of the amniotic fluid and after they are born have a preference for the flavours and smells of their own amniotic fluid than some other child not related to them. [2]

Choose your attitude, but not necessarily your behaviours

I think it is interesting that behaviour is more about what you have done in the past, than your thoughts or attitudes of what you are likely, or what you want to do in the future, and this is key. You are more likely to eat what you have already tried and tested than try something else. Although, I am sure you agree that for people who are not averse to trying new things, new habits can get formed from trying new things.

Potato and pea curry left overs

It is interesting looking at people’s value systems for food

You may also make decisions about food based on your value system – how nutritious is it? How does the price compare to other foods? Is it the ‘proper’ or ‘right’ food for the occasion? Quality considerations may affect your choices, but more likely you choose purely based on the taste or sensory experience of the food, which is actually the most likely determinant in making food choices. [3]

Another important factor is what stage of life you are at, and what you have traditionally eaten all your life, or more cultural perspectives.

Food cravings

It is an interesting question. . . cravings for food are likely to use the same parts of the brains as those areas which make us crave for more nebulous substances such as drugs and alcohol [1]. . . So, I suppose you use the same part of your brain to say ‘no’ to chocolate or chips as you do to cigarettes. It sets up a very strong schema in your mind, I feel, if you are used to denying yourself certain things that you know are no good for you. You can build on it, from the thing you find easiest to resist to that which you find hardest to resist.

What are you having for dinner?

In terms of ‘what are you having for dinner?’ though, I do find the whole thing fascinating. Does anyone else just get a ‘vision’ of a meal in their head when it comes time to make these kinds of decisions? I guess this is random, and it doesn’t happen all the time, but does that happen to you? And do you know that feeling – ‘I feel like fish’? I wonder if that has any basis whatsoever in what your body actually needs.

I always wondered if there were other sorts of cravings, say, cravings for nuts when you need more omega acids, or cravings for fruit and water when you are menstruating, which alert you to the fact that your body needs MORE of these things.

Of course in the case of dairy and meat, , , it is just because something namely dastardly fungi in your stomach needs these things and is crying out via sophisticated signalling to your brain, to eat these things, even when it is the last thing you need.

Unconscious decision making – food choices

The mind is a wonderful thing. So much goes on, that we are not even consciously aware of. I am going to make a japanese bowl of tuna and rice tonight, due to a vision I had yesterday, and a lot of the creativity comes in making those visions a reality, through the actual process of cooking the food!!


1. Koster, EP 2009, ‘Diversity in the determinants of food choice : a psychological perspective’, Food quality and preference, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 70-82

2. Blake, AA 2004, ‘Flavour perception and the learning of food preference’, Flavor perception 2004, Blackwell Pub, Oxford, pp. 172-202

3. Furst, T, Connors, M, Bisogni, CA, Sobal, J, Falk, LW 1996, ‘Food choice : a conceptual model of the process’, Appetite, vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 247-266

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