Fit Facts: Be aware of external influences over diet

By Blake Glosson

Whether you realize it or not, your environment has a huge impact on the food you eat.

If you want to master your diet, it’s important to recognize what negative influences impact your body. This way, you can deflect them instead of succumbing to their provocation.

You might be thinking, “Blake, I have complete control over what I eat. Some people may be impacted by external factors, but I most certainly am not.” If this is your mind-set, I challenge you to examine your eating motivations for one day and see if it changes your mind.

For most people, there is a psychological aspect to food choices that flies under the radar. Common influences that go unnoticed include the people you live and dine with, as well as the advertisements you’re exposed to.

A study published in September by the journal Appetite suggests people you eat with can cause your “health commitment goal” to be “less activated,” particularly if those people don’t seem to have a high standard for eating healthy.

The main hypothesis of this study is you’re less likely to eat healthy around someone who is overweight. While this might be valid, it’s clear people sway your diet decisions regardless of their physical appearance.

I’m sure most of us can relate with this. You probably wouldn’t eat eight slices of pizza on a first date the way you might with a few buddies.

Beyond trying to make an impression on your peers, you’re likely to adopt priorities from the people around you. If people you frequently hang out with don’t care about eating healthy, you probably won’t care.

“You tend to follow what your roommate is eating or you tend to follow what your family is eating,” said Priyanka Chakraborty, dietitian and assistant professor of nutrition, health and wellness. “It’s just not necessarily with the diet; it’s with all human behavior that we tend to model people that we hang out with.”

Don’t forget that your diet decisions are impacting the people around you, too. Rather than encouraging an unhealthy lifestyle, be the person who starts a healthy trend among your friends.

“If you tell your mom or you tell your friend [to] cook a meal and not order pizza … don’t tell them and get away [from] it; try to pitch in and try to do whatever you can so that they are able to make that change,” Chakraborty said.

Advertisements are likely the sneakiest form of manipulation. According to a study published in May by Psychology and Health, there is “a positive association between accessibility of food-related cognitions and reported desire to eat, following priming with television food advertisements.”

Put simply, food advertisements stimulate our desire to eat. This isn’t necessarily a problem in itself; it’s the types of food advertised that’s the bigger issue. Most advertisements feature fast foods or convenience foods with high fat and sugar content that entice us to indulge whether we’re hungry or not rather than promoting healthy foods like broccoli or kale.

“A lot of it can be attributed to marketing techniques by both restaurants and food companies, and it can set us up for failure if we’re not careful,” said Cristina Racana, graduate nutrition, health and wellness student. “Understanding your body’s natural cues to hunger can have a big impact on … your eating habits.”

Instead of trying to eliminate negative influences in your life, be aware of them and focus on eating a balanced diet with all foods in moderation.