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The science of nutrition and healthy eating
The science of nutrition and healthy eating

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1.1 What are the reasons for eating?

Food provides the energy that our bodies need to keep going. Without food, a person would typically survive for a few weeks. Without water, they could only live for a few days.

In developed countries, most people have access to enough food that they would not consider ‘to stay alive’ as one of their reasons for eating. However, in parts of the world where food is scarce, this may be the main motivation for eating.

In Activity 1 you might have written that you ate because you were hungry. Apart from hunger, there are several other reasons why people eat. Consider the following reasons.

  • Habit. When food is readily available, people could eat at any time of the day or night. But most people have a routine of ‘meal times’ with snacks in between. Many of us have three meals a day. It is easy to think this is what we ‘should’ have and we find it unsettling if circumstances prevent us from eating one of those meals. Yet elsewhere in the world, particularly in poorer societies, people may eat only one or two meals a day. Typically in a main meal, people have a selection of items providing a range of nutrients, which helps towards a balanced diet. However, having several different types of food available at a meal can lead to a higher intake. You have probably experienced the feeling of ‘fullness’ after eating a large main course and yet, somehow, there is still room for a tempting dessert.
  • Social. This is linked to habit. We eat because other people are eating at the same time and we use the time to chat with them. We may also use food to please others, preparing meals for them and eating with them.
  • Sensory appeal. The preparation of food can produce very tempting smells. For example, supermarkets often position their bakery so that the smell of baking bread wafts into the store, rather than being removed by extractor fans. Cookery books and food packets display tempting dishes and some menus and fast-food outlets advertise with pictures. We use herbs and spices to liven up bland-tasting foods to make them more attractive to eat. The sound of food sizzling on a grill or barbecue can tempt us to eat too. So, the stimulation of our senses of smell, sight, taste and hearing can be another reason why we eat.
  • Psychological. Eating is a pleasurable activity, so another reason for eating is because we like a particular food. We may also eat because we are bored, lonely or depressed (often called ‘comfort eating’). The food eaten under those circumstances is often in the form of snacks, rather than meals. Snacks can be higher in fat and sugar than a typical meal, providing more calories and fewer nutrients. This can cause people to put on excess weight if taken to extremes.

There can also be reasons why some people reduce the amount of food and fluid eaten or they may have days when they don’t eat very much and then binge at other times. This can lead to an eating disorder which requires specialist support to normalise eating and rationalise their relationships with food and behaviour.