Eating isn’t just something your stomach wants to do. Your stomach is only one part of a larger network inside of your body that handles—and triggers—your body’s needs and desires to eat food. It turns out that not every craving is actually driven by need for food. Most of it is mental. You remember that old saying about your eyes can bite off more than you can chew: here are some of the ways you brain can change the way you eat.
- Is Health Food Harder to Eat?
It’s not just the difference in ingredients. Researchers have found that between foods that are soft and foods that are harder to chew, our brains automatically assume that the hard-to-chew-food is healthier, even if there isn’t any evidence to back that up.
What makes granola and trail mix and nuts and cereal get a reputation for being healthy even though they have high calories counts, and in the case of some nuts, high fat content? The toughness of these foods make them seem like they require effort to chew. Effort is not something we associate with weight gain. As far as our culture sees it—regardless of the scientific facts—weight gain comes from laziness. So if the food you’re eating requires vigorous chewing, it must be healthy.
- Table Setting
Atmosphere plays a big part in how much we think we want to eat. This includes all of the senses, not just your taste buds. Creature comforts like lighting, air conditioning/heating, noise levels and smells combine to affect how we’ll eat in a place. For instance, colder environments will cause us to eat more. The body uses the extra food energy to warm up the body. Think about that when you go out eating during those winter holidays.
- Food and Social Interactions
Social pressure affects the way we eat in any number of different ways. People can be induced to eat in certain company—some grandmas are known to push unwanted, emotionally obligating dishes on family—and to restrict their eating in other company. Some eating can be affected by the presence of other people. Anxiety sufferers have a difficult time eating around other people, even if they are usually comfortable with those people. Another way social interactions affect eating is that they distract us from our food. We may lose track of how much we eat when we’re talking, or not eat enough.
- Salad Days
Ideas about the health benefits of salad have some interesting affects on people’s food choices. One study found that if a “healthy” salad only had to appear on a menu to make people feel as if they were eating healthy, even if they were ordering the most unhealthy food options on the same menu. Another study claims that in healthy restaurants, restaurant goers tend to order larger portion sides, as if they are subconsciously making up for limiting their calories elsewhere.