Food can be many things. Some people see food as an irreplaceable means for survival, whereas another group of people say it is more than that – it is a “therapy” for our bad moods and a “healing” of our souls. Sometimes, food is more significant than that, it can be the symbol of unity and identity of a culture, nation or country.
The list of the existential of food can go on and on, however, we actually do not know food as much as we think we do. During the past decades, psychologists have conducted different experiments on food, with the expectations to understand more about the connection between the human mind and food. From the experiments, some interesting facts have emerged and these facts have provided fascinating insights about food, and about us.
#1 Taste fades with age.
Past studies have long suggested that the sense of smell plays an important role in helping us to distinguish the flavours of foods, whereas the sense of taste helps us in detecting the textural quality of foods, and together we are able to taste and differentiate the tiny difference between foods3;4. However, our ability to taste becomes weaker as we age3;4. It is suggested that older people have fewer taste buds and their sense of smell weakens as well2;3. Thus, when the nose loses its ability to “taste” the food, our ability to taste also decreases3;4.
Specifically, studies have found that the ability to detect salty food is the most affected one among older people2;4. With age, they may even need about 2 to 9 times more condiment like salt to experience the actual taste2;4!
#2 Mindless eating = Overeating!
Do you like watching TV or talking with people or multitasking for whatever stuff while eating? Well, mind you, you might be falling into the trap of overeating without noticing! This phenomenon is termed as mindless eating, where people eat while their mind is wandering off3. Studies have suggested that a distracted mind tends to provide less enjoyment from the eating process, and therefore people tend to eat more in a routine way when they are zoned out2;3;4.
On the other hand, paying attention while eating usually generates more satisfaction and enjoyment. Hence, one common approach that is used to regulate eating disorders and obesity is mindful eating, where people take smaller bites of food and focusing more on the food and the eating process3;4.
#3 Bad mood, bad food.
What will you eat when you are in a bad mood – French fries or boiled potatoes? Research suggested that sometimes people eat because of the mood, but not just of hunger, and years later this habit is given the name of emotional eating2;4. Generally, people experiencing negative emotions are more likely to seek for sugary and high-fat food, rather than eating proper and healthy meals (with vegetables)3;4.
Bad mood makes us eat bad food, however, good mood oftentimes does not necessarily lead people to have good food either. In fact, people in a good mood will just have a little bit of everything rather than having a specific food3;4.
#4 Healthy foods boost the mood.
While good mood does not directly make people eat good food, good food in return gives a boost to our mood. Having vegetables and fruits daily can actually improve our mood on the next day3;5. The idea behind it is that micronutrients (e.g., folates, serotonin) in vegetables and fruits are said to have an effect on improving depression3;5.
In the study, the researchers suggest that there is a relationship between the quantity of vegetables/fruits consumed and the mood on the next day3;5. However, for the effect to be identifiable, 7 or 8 servings of vegetables and fruits are required3;5. Anyway, a generally healthy diet does elevate our moods and spirits, thus leading us to a happier life.
#5 What others order affects our order too.
Are you the kind of person that likes to be the last one to order the food when going out for a meal with a group of people just to avoid ordering the same food with others?
If no, then have you ever changed your mind and placed another order when someone else is ordering the same food as you? This “what others order affects our order” idea is a recognisable trend today, and researchers believe that it stems from our desire to stand out and indicate our individuality through a unique food choice1;2;3.
At the same time, the same research also suggests that people tend to enjoy their second choices less than the original decision3. Thus, eat what you really want and be yourself!
#6 Eating more than just food - Let's eat ideas!
Old dogs may not learn new tricks, but old food can be mixed-and-matched and re-presented with new labels. It may not seem like it, but you are in fact tasting the idea of the food that you have just ordered and set up certain expectations, when the dishes are not even prepared. And indeed, food labels and the expectations that we set up have an impact on how we find and experience their actual taste3.
Some food labels may be so ridiculous that it seems like a joke from the shop, but whatever name it is, there are people who try them out for the sake of being different and daring to try out new experiences3;4. And when we are being different to choose a food with a ridiculous label, we are making a conceptual consumption, to collect as many experiential foods as we want3.
For example, you and your friends entered a new café today, and there is one drink labelled as “Gypsophila”. It is your favourite flower, but drinking it does not sound like the best idea. You ordered it anyway, and your friends are more excited than you and everything seems so interesting. This is when we are not only eating the food itself, but we also eat ideas3. We are eating the experience of being different and interesting, which makes up our social image and self-image at the same time3.
#7 Little changes trump weird crash diets.
Have you ever been on diet before? How long did you hold up to and was it really effective? Well, diet is one of the ways to lose weight, of course, but extreme diets can possibly do nothing for your weight-losing-plan or even do more harm than help. It is because extreme diets usually ask for big changes to our eating habits and patterns, and surely big changes to patterns are uncomfortable and difficult to make3.
Therefore, instead of craving for an immediate effect, it is definitely way more beneficial to just make small changes in our eating habits and patterns, as they are usually more feasible and sustainable in the long run3;4. Some examples that you may practice including (but not limited to): pay attention to your food (say no to mindless eating during proper meals!), rely on smaller plates, do not eat directly from packets/packages, put down the utensils between bites and drink more water after every meal (even after a snack!)3. Simple, straightforward and easy as it is!
Ariely, D., & Levav, J. (2000). Sequential choice in group settings: Taking the road less travelled and less enjoyed. Journal of Consumer Research, 27(3), 279-290. doi: 10.1086/317585
Chowdhury, R. R. (2017). 18 interesting facts about Food Psychology that everyone needs to know. Scoop Whoop Media. Retrieved from https://www.scoopwhoop.com/facts-food-psychology/
Dean, J. (2013). Food on the mind: 20 surprising insights from Food Psychology. PsyBlog. Retrieved from https://www.spring.org.uk/2013/02/food-on-the-mind-20-surprising-insights-from-food-psychology.php
Superuser. (2019). Top 20 facts about Food Psychology. Crazy Masala Food. Retrieved from https://www.crazymasalafood.com/top-20-facts-about-food-psychology/
White, B. A., Horwath, C. C., & Conner, T. S. (2013). Many apples a day keep the blues away – daily experiences of negative and positive affect and food consumption in young adults. British Journal of Health Psychology, 18(4), 782-798. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12021
Be❦Live In Psychology is a mental health clinic at Ecosky, Jalan Kuching, Kuala Lumpur. Our services consist of therapy, assessment and training. WhatsApp us at +6018 – 206 7313 to make an appointment.
I am Teng Wen. I am currently an undergraduate student at HELP University, pursuing a major in Psychology. During my studies, I have found the elements of psychology fascinating, particularly in the field of research, counselling and clinical psychology. As I believe that “what is essential is invisible to the eye”, thus I see that time and value are two important pieces that truly help people to explore their inner self and then connect with each other emotionally.