Feeding behavior guides what we eat

As humans, we have a very complex relationship with food and what we choose to eat. On one side, we choose food based on the energy and nutritional content as we are programmed for survival. But humans have also developed a drive to choose food for its hedonic value. What does hedonic mean? It means that we eat to obtain pleasure in the absence of an energy deficit. 

If we are starved, we become hungry and scavenge to find high energy/nutritional value food for increased energy intake. But some particular foods have a high value as a reward or comfort and could be a poor nutritional choice (It is, of course, possible that items have both high hedonic and nutritional value).

It has also been shown that humans have genetic differences in their hedonic drive. The same food triggers a stronger hedonic value in certain individuals making them more susceptible to eating without feeling hunger. In many cases, high caloric food will also have a greater reward effect in these humans.

A measurement of the level of hedonic eating can be that you often eat a particular food without feeling any hunger. It has been shown in studies that frequently engaging in hedonic eating strengthens the feeling of reward and reinforces this behavior. It will also reinforce the anticipation of food/reward. If this particular behavior is coupled to a certain place or a certain activity, you expect that reward in that situation. This becomes wired in your brain and can be hard to avoid. 

Challenge: 

  • Some foods that we eat have a very high hedonic value. Is there a certain food item that you use as a reward? Try to identify one of these items.
  • Is there a way to switch this particular item to a similar one that can be healthier for you but still confer a reward? Try to find an alternative that is healthier but still seems rewarding to you.
  • Is there a certain situation or time that you crave this food item as a reward? Try to identify such a situation. Just being aware makes it easier for you to make better choices.

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