Why people eat the way they do

A guide to nutrition.

Lesson #1

Looking around the internet and media today, it’s easy to see that North Americans are very interested in nutrition, eating right and exercising. However, there are huge misconceptions, lies, frauds out there that have misled the public for some time.

Let’s look at some facts from the American Dietetic Association (ADA)’s survey of the American public.

  • 38% of Americans know that they are supposed to be eating well but feel there are obstacles to changing the way they eat.
  • 43% of Americans feel they are already eating well
  • 19% of Americans are not interested in eating well or changing their behaviours

 From this we can see that most people either want to eat well or think they already are. But why is there such a growing obesity problem in America? It’s because as a society our basic understanding of nutrition has been skewed to the point that people don’t truly know how to eat properly.

 Information from the American Department of Agriculture has shown that Americans have increased their calorie consumption by 523 calories since the 1970’s.  About 50% of these extra calories come from fat and sugars. The major reason for this is because of our portion sizing, we are eating much larger meals than we did 20 years ago.

 If we overeat by 532 calories a day, we will be consistently gaining weight every single day of our lives. 1 Lb of fat is equivalent to 3500 calories, so an increase of 530 calories over what our body requires is over 1lb per week.

Before and After - A look at differences in portion size over the last 20 eyarsCredit: American Heart and Lung Association

Well what defines “eating well”? If the information the public is getting is skewed by companies and media with self serving purposes, how are we supposed know what eating well really is? After years of bombardment through the media trying to sell us information about fad diets and quick weight loss solutions we’ve become disconnected with basic nutrition facts.

 There are plenty of good sources of information out there, and as a society we need to learn how to look in the right places for it. So next time before you click a link promising “Top 10 ways to lose fat” or “Secrets to abs they don’t want you to know” try choosing a quality source of information instead. It may be a more boring format, but you’ll be better for it in the long run. It’s a sad fact that I will need to sensationalize the title and back-links in order to draw people’s attention toward this article with good information. However, that is the state of our society today. We tend to always search for a quick fix or a magic pill.


The ADA did a study about where we are getting our information from and how credible we find those sources. They found that since 2002:

  • Television: Down from 72% to 63% television is slowly losing ground to new forms of media. However we only find television about 14% credible.
  • Magazine: Down from 58% to 45% and about a 25% credibility rating.
  • Newspapers: Down from 33% to 19% mostly due to the death of the newspaper.
  • Internet: up from 13% to 24% and ranking as the number one source of information for young adults. It carries with it a 22% credibility rating however it suffers from the greatest range of validity of information, ranging from expert to criminally negligent.

 As you’re reading this article, you too most likely get the majority of your information from the internet. There are places to get quality information on the Internet; the trick is finding where and what to believe. If you follow my series of articles, I will teach you how to sort the gems from the chaff.

 The 7 ways we make our food choices:

1.       Taste

2.       Convenience

3.       Emotions

4.       Religion/Culture

5.       Health Benefits

6.       Medical Conditions

7.       Socio-economic Status / Economy


  1. Taste – The biggest factor in which food choices we make is based on taste. We often associate healthy food options as being the least tasteful, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Humans have been programmed from our Neanderthal ancestors to associate high calorie foods with delicious taste. However, in a society where quick calories aren't needed this association is what tends to make us over-consume calories.
  2. Convenience – In our busy 21st century lives, we often don’t have time to prepare the proper foods for ourselves that we should be eating. This is why the popularity of fast food has become so popular. In later articles I will teach you how to make healthy food choices from these establishments.
  3. Emotions – We often associate food with emotions. We see this being parodied all the time in movies and sitcoms when people eat ice cream when they are sad or associate chocolate with love and/or sex.
  4. Religion / Culture – A very large percentage of the world makes daily food choices from their religious background. Muslims won’t eat pork, Indians won’t eat cow and for at least one month out the year Muslims won’t eat or drink during the day for an entire month. From a cultural standpoint we make many choices about our food that we might not make if we grew up in another part of the world. If you were raised in Scotland you most likely eat haggis more than anyone else you know abroad.
  5. Health Benefits – As we climb down the list we begin to see that health does play a part in our decision making process but it tends to rank lower in our priorities in application. A lot of us want to eat healthy but find that we end up making compromises along the way.
  6. Medical Conditions – As we get older the incidence of heart disease and diabetes becomes a factor that we need to consider. Especially as people become more overweight their health issues start to increase, problems begin to arise and the need to start basing food choices on healthy options becomes more and more important.
  7. Socio-Economic Status – Not everyone in the world has food as readily available to them as we do living in first world countries. In many places in the world, just getting access to drinking water is an issue. The economy of a nation also plays a role, during a recession we tend to make cheaper food choices which often compromises on quality and nutrition.

 HippocratesCredit: Wikipedia2500 years ago Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food” a profound statement that we should hold true today. If there was ever a fad diet slogan to go by, that is the one.

 Take a quick self survey now and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How important is Nutrition to me?
  • Do I feel that I am eating healthy?
  • Are my portion sizes larger than I can fit in both hands?
  • Which of the 7 reasons most affect my food choices?
  • How much of my nutrition education have I gotten from quality sources vs. Internet forums/articles?

 In order to make our way through the cloud of misinformation out there and be able to determine exactly what works, we will need to turn to the exact science of nutrition for our answers. In my coming articles I will talk about how food digestion works, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, calories and a whole lot more. We will talk about some food related illnesses as well as how to apply healthy eating to your life. In my next article, I’ll show you where to find the real sources of information.