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Why We Eat the Foods We Do

Understanding what drives your food decisions can help you make healthier choices
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

We live in a world of plenty, with more than enough food to choose from. Wander down any grocery store aisle and marvel at the options in every category. But what influences which foods we decide to buy and eat? It''s not as simple as you might think.

We choose foods for many reasons besides hunger. (If eating was as simple as putting gas in a car, we''d have no obesity epidemic in the United States!) Personal taste, family preferences, cultural influences, emotional reasons, health concerns, societal pressures, convenience, cost, and variety and quantity of the available offerings all come into play when we choose what to eat.

The United States enjoys one of the most plentiful food supplies in the world. But with abundance comes overeating and, ultimately, the dreaded weight gain and related health problems. While surveys report that we''re more interested in diet and health than ever before, the numbers of overweight and obese Americans tell a different story.

If you learn more about what influences your choices, you may be better able to control what you eat each day. Here are seven of the main factors at work in our food decisions:

1. Taste Rules

The main reason we choose a particular food is because we like the way it tastes. We don''t eat blueberries because they''re an excellent source of antioxidants -- we eat them because they taste good.

Taste preferences are present when we''re born, with even babies showing a fondness for sweetness and fats. Over time, we develop a palate for other flavors. Some studies have suggested that children who are exposed to a wide variety of foods early in life are more likely to enjoy a greater variety of flavors as adults.

But it is possible to teach yourself to love the taste of healthier foods as an adult. Learning to enjoy ""the taste of eating right"" takes time and perseverance. It also helps to know easy, healthy cooking techniques.

2. Favorite Foods

Ask most any expert about the secret to weight loss, and you''ll hear that it''s essential to keep favorite foods as part of a healthy diet. Let''s face it; we all grew up with fond memories of foods that bring us joy.

I remember going with my extended family each summer to Ocean City, N.J., where we watched in awe -- and tasted with delight -- the Copper Kettle fudge. To this day, a taste of fudge brings me back to childhood bliss. How could I possibly give up fudge? I don''t. I eat it infrequently, but the very thought that it would be stricken from my acceptable food list is heresy.

It''s human nature: As soon as you attach denial to a particular food, it becomes an obsession. And it doesn''t take a rocket scientist to know that being obsessed with food is no good for weight loss.

No one wants to give up their favorite foods and at the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic, we embrace that concept. We know you need your favorite foods; it''s your job to be responsible in terms of how often and how much you eat them (unless these favorites happen to be low-calorie fruits and vegetables).

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