Why bad food choices are a matter of habit

Bad eating choices are often exacerbated by habit, new research has suggested. Published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the study showed people tend to consume unhealthy foods in certain settings primarily because they are used to doing so.

Such examples include movie goers snacking on popcorn whenever they visit the cinema and people munching on sweets as they sit on the couch watching television.

David Neal, a Psychology Professor at the University of Southern California (USC) when the investigation was carried out, said: "When we've repeatedly eaten a particular food in a particular environment, our brain comes to associate the food with that environment and make us keep eating."

Wendy Wood, a Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at USC - which first opened its doors in 1880 - explained individuals often believe their eating behaviour is activated by how meals taste, yet habits result in people not caring whether or not something tastes nice.

Professor Marie Reid at the University of Hull, a Chartered Psychologist, commented: "Food choices are certainly habits and that applies to both healthy and unhealthy choices. Eating mostly from habit is potentially a problem because people can eat when they are not hungry and do not need the food. 

"Trying to teach people healthy habits includes teaching them to eat from hunger rather than from habit and keeping treats to moderate levels. A few sweets on the couch is harmless, but a whole big bag of sweets, on top of dinner can contribute to weight gain. 

"Also when eating mostly from habit people get bad at recognising whether they are full or not."

share