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Cognitive Food Influences

Updated on January 8, 2018

When and what to eat is affected by our thoughts and feelings about food. Cognitive food influences are arguably the most significant factor in our diet. Before we go into detail lets visit the dictionary for a complete definition of “cognitive” to ensure we fully understand its meaning.

cognitive-the mental processes of perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning

The cognitive influences in our diet stem from about 6 different factors. The question I have for you is do these 6 cognitive influences have a positive or negative impact on your food choices?

Cognitive Factor 1: Habits
Everyone should know by now that 3 meals a day is not the correct approach and I have said it so much you probably want to stop reading, so I will keep it short. Five to six small meals daily will prevent you from making poor decisions.

Another habit to focus on is not eating the same thing daily. This goes for the same fruits and vegetables as well. Failure to get a variety of foods will cause a deficiency of some sort that is difficult to identify and this deficiency could potentially make you crave unhealthy foods or have a negative effect on your exercise.

Cognitive Factor 2: Comfort and Discomfort Foods
It’s not a secret that food types have emotional role in our lives that will affect us forever unless we address them. The emotional effect of foods usually develops in our childhoods; this means that if you are raising children you need to address this NOW.

Beginning from day one on earth, food and affection are intertwined. This physical and psychological satisfaction derived from eating (good or bad) is continuously reinforced throughout life. For example if our parents were rewarded for good behavior using a particular food such as ice cream or candy we would associate accomplishments with those foods. What if at a young age we were always rewarded with a fruit or vegetable or not rewarded with food at all? I predict we would be a skinny nation.

Cognitive Factor 3: Food Cravings
Cravings for a particular food are usually both psychological and physiological, seldom is it just one. A psychological food craving stems from “factor 2: comfort foods” and an example is when as a child you are rewarded with foods; however some will argue that the craving is derived from a nutrient deficit. When a nutrient deficit occurs we usually crave foods that are high in calories which would explain why sweet, salty, and fried foods are among the most craved. Change your habits and these cravings should diminish.

Cognitive Factor 4: Advertising and Promotion
It is estimated that 70% of all food purchase decisions are made while shopping rather than while planning. If an ad affects us emotionally we will likely buy it because all purchases are triggered by emotion. If you are suffering from diverticulitis and you see a label highlighting “excellent source of fiber” you will likely buy it. If you see a Oreo package decorated with snow flakes around the holidays you will also be inclined to buy it if your mother gave you Oreo cookies as a holiday treat.

Cognitive Factor 5: Social
Peer pressure doesn’t end once we become adults. If your friends only eat fattening fast foods and dine out at burger and fries restaurants then you will be more inclined to do the same which will also make it difficult to transition to a healthier lifestyle. Other social conflicts are if your friends go to bars and drink every Friday and Saturday. Obviously you don’t have to eat and drink in these instances, but saying “no” will be substantially difficult.

Cognitive Factor 6: Nutrition and Health Beliefs
If you currently have or are genetically inclined to fall victim to disease you may already be taking action. If you are among those groups who operate with the belief that “I’m going to die one day, I may as well enjoy the food I eat” then you will likely regret this as your health deteriorates. Be proactive today versus tomorrow.


If you step back in your mind and look at these influences, you will notice that you have control of all of them if you were to think before you act and then apply will-power. If you don’t want to do it for yourself then do it for those you are a role model too such as children or a significant other.


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