Do food cues really have an influence on our food intake?

Food cues can have either a positive or negative impact on our eating habits, but if we identify them we have a chance at eliminating them or coming up with ways in which we can replace them with positive food cues.

Blue bowl filled with strawberries and cherries.
Placing fruit in eyesight can help encourage healthy eating behaviors.

Have you noticed that holidays, events, celebrations and even family and friends can have an influence on the food choices we make? Whether these choices are impacting our diets in positive or negative ways, we can always be more conscious about the influences that may be impacting us. Being able to identify these influences is the first step of reducing or eliminating them and making healthier food choices, however, it is also possible to create ways in which we can replace these influences with positive food cues. There is a way to build healthier food cues into our daily routine.

Some common food cues that may influence our food choices include the feeling of hunger, the sight or smell of food, certain activities, people eating or talking about food around you or emotions and feelings throughout the day.

Examples of these may include:

  • Hot dogs or bratwursts with barbeques and outdoor parties
  • Popcorn with movies
  • Ice cream with baseball games
  • S’mores with camping
  • Chips with TV
  • Pretzels with boredom
  • Candy with fall holiday events
  • Cookies, pies and other sweet treats with holidays

Tactics that may help you in eliminating or replacing food cues may include keeping the food item out of sight or building a new association with a certain activity. For example, if you each lunch at your computer each day, you can make a rule that you cannot eat lunch at your computer and remind yourself with a note on your computer screen. If you have an afternoon craving for a snack at work, keep fruit or vegetable snacks available instead of purchasing high-fat and high-calorie foods. You can also replace a craving with a short walk around or outside of your building to shift your focus from food.

You can change a habit by making environmental changes to your environment. Using a smaller plate or bowl or a larger water glass or jug, and even placing an easy-to-access fruit bowl in your kitchen or other areas of your house can help you to make healthier choices throughout the day. Additionally, placing clean vegetables and fruits within eyesight on the front shelf in the refrigerator, and avoiding purchasing high-fat, high-calorie foods can also bring about changes in your food choice routine.

By recognizing food cues and making small changes to your food environment, you may have a greater success with weight loss, weight maintenance and the adoption of overall healthier behaviors for you and your family.

Michigan State University Extension offers nutrition education classes for adults that provide education on the benefits of choosing low-fat foods and increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. More information can be found at MI Health Matters.

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