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Why We Eat the Way We Do

  • Eating
Why We Eat the Way We Do

Check out “Why We Eat The Way We Do” on NPR’s Hidden Brain which runs just shy of half an hour (, accessed 11/23/19). Here’s what I learned from this entertaining and enlightening podcast. 

Psychologist Paul Rozin was being interviewed by Shankar Vedantam, host of Hidden Brain. Rozin, who has spent decades studying “the interplay between food, identity, and culture,” maintains that "Food is not just nutrition that goes in your mouth or even pleasant sensations that go with it. It connects to your whole life, and it's really a very important part of performing your culture and experiencing your culture." This is why we enjoy certain ritualized foods—from birthday cake to Christmas pudding, Hebrew Sabbath challah, and Muslim couscous—and why we have strong associations to traditional or simply familiar foods from childhood.

Two discussion points got me thinking. One was the difference between French and American eaters: Americans are focused on food as nourishment while the French view it as pleasure. Due to of the French approach to eating, they seek more enjoyment, eat more slowly and get satisfaction from food, resulting in stopping eating when pleasure wanes. Alternately, Americans, aimed at nourishment, eat quickly and miss out on savoring food. These differences aren’t news to me, but I hadn’t realized that Americans were seen as nutrition focused. You could have fooled me.

The second point of interest came from the discussion between Vedantam and Rozin on how anticipation, experience and memory influence what and how much we eat. Some people are super into anticipation. I sure was in my wild binge-eating days. I’d daydream about what I was going to eat hours (or days) beforehand, causing a flood of dopamine in my brain which reinforced the joy I anticipated. The actual experience of eating was pretty much a blur because I was shoveling food into my mouth as fast as I could and, other than the first bite or two bringing ecstasy, there wasn’t much pleasure to be found. Memory was hardly pleasure filled. Rather, it was replete with guilt, shame, remorse and self-hatred. Nothing to put in your emotional scrap book, believe me.

Now I don’t spend much time anticipating food or reminiscing about it, but I do find the actual eating experience more pleasurable because I’m present to it. I think you will find the podcast interesting brain food in your transition to “normal” eating. 




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