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Factors That Influence Your Food Choices

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You might think that the choices you make (especially those regarding food), are yours and yours alone, but truth be told that’s not entirely the case.

There are many factors (beyond mood and hormones) that prompt you to grab that soda, chips, or candy bar at the checkout counter such as a recent commercial you may have seen, or the fact that it is conveniently within reach while you’re waiting in line.

There's also the possibility that you’ve had a tough day and feel that you could use a little ‘pick me up,’ after all you deserve it for what you’ve put up with from your boss, co-worker, or significant other.

But truth be told, you may not have made that same choice if there weren’t any chips, soda, or candy bars at the checkout counter, or if you actually enjoyed your job, and had a great relationship with your significant other. What if you didn’t have the common attitude of rewarding yourself with junk food?

woman-holding-plate-of-doughnuts-in-right-hand-and-vegetables-in-left-hand

Factor #1 Environment

Here in America, our environment seems to have us set up for chronic diseases. Why don’t we find nicely washed and portioned fruit and veggies in a fridge conveniently located at the checkout line?

There certainly aren’t any healthy options with a combination of protein, fiber, and healthy carbs on the hotline at mini-marts, nor memorable pop-culture commercials promoting easy access to healthy yet convenient meals or recipes.

In fact, fresh produce isn’t even available in some parts of the country, which are what we often refer to as food deserts. 

 

Accessibility

For those of us who have access to produce sections in grocery stores, farmer's markets, and fruit stands, it’s easy to take the accessibility for granted.

Food deserts exist throughout the U.S. in many low-income areas, where there are only local convenience stores that carry highly processed, sugary, fatty, and shelf-stable foods.

A lack of transportation also plays a significant role in where you can shop. Affordability is an additional factor that affects food choices. You can’t make healthy choices if healthy foods aren’t even an option.

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Home & Work

When you're home, your choices are influenced by what you have available in the house to eat. If you have access to healthy foods, this is one area that you can control.

Remember that if the junk food isn’t in your house, you won’t be as likely to eat it or pack it for lunch. Your work environment may be a little more out of your control, especially if your workplace has concessions or a food court.

One option to help you take control is to bring your own lunch and snacks, or petition and ask your employer for healthier food choices at work.

 

Convenience & Media

It’s no secret that modern societies are crazy busy. There really aren’t enough hours in the day, and it’s no longer as common to have someone dedicated to cooking healthy food at home.

When all responsible parties work full-time, it can be so much more convenient to order out or hit up a drive-thru, but there aren’t always quick and healthy options for these situations.

Also, science shows that what we see or read through media has the power to change our food preferences and influence our choices for not just what we eat, but when and how much.

 

Culture

Ethnic and cultural foods also influence your choices, since cultural foods may be your comfort foods, and the main options at many family gatherings.

In some cases, these foods may not offer the best nutritional opportunity. For example, if they are mostly fried and full of simple carbohydrates, they can negatively affect your health and longevity.

If you find that unhealthy cultural foods make up a majority of your diet, you may want to address this by limiting these foods or finding healthier alternatives.

collage-of-comfort-foods-like-pizza-french-fries-and-spam-musubi

Factor #2 Mental Health

Aspects of mental health can also influence your food choices, and food choices in turn can influence your mental health.

 

Relationships

Relationships of all kinds can send you through a roller coaster of emotions, and if you’re an emotional eater, this can send you on an unstable and probably unhealthy pattern of eating.

Whether it’s a tub of chocolate ice cream after a hard breakup, snacking while mulling over an argument or even just getting comfortable and eating the same meals and portions as our partner, relationships are a sneaky food influencer.

Awareness and mindfulness are key here. While a single date night with a 12-pack, or a box of Kleenex and Ben and Jerry’s won’t immediately give you diabetes, just be mindful that it can lead to a downward spiral into a pattern of poor dietary choices.

 

Stress

Stress alone could make up an entire blog or discussion by itself. I mean, in this day and age who isn’t stressed? It comes at us from all angles!

A tough day at work, or even worse, working a job that you hate, finances, relationships, and basically all adult responsibilities all too often result in little time for fun or unwinding activities.

Stress impacts our food choices by releasing the hormone cortisol which increases cravings and appetite.

For example:

Finances

If you haven’t yet, I would encourage you to track your spending and make a budget. Ideally, money experts suggest 20% of income going to savings, 50% for needs like housing, utilities, and food, and 30% for wants.

There are many beginner budgeting tools online and even calculators to help you tackle debt. It’s amazing how much less stress you feel once you get on top of your finances, which can free up some mental space to care more about your food choices.

Career

The average person spends about 30% of their life working, and if it’s a job you absolutely hate, well, that’s a lot of time being miserable and stressed.

The CDC reports that most work-related stress is from co-worker characteristics like personality, leadership, or coping styles, and/or work conditions such as job insecurity, unmanageable workloads, or conflicting expectations.

They further report that job stress can be physically, emotionally, and mentally harmful.

If you’re concerned about your level of job stress, you might take action to make things more enjoyable, like clarifying expectations and position security, or seeking another position, a different company, or even a different career.

 

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Spirituality

Mind, body, and spirit are all connected. If one is unhealthy, it affects the rest.

Sometimes, overeating is inspired by the ‘pleasure’ or happiness we feel when eating, but science shows that we can also obtain happiness and other positive emotions from spirituality.

You might just find that addressing your spiritual needs with prayer, meditation, time in nature, or religious services might have a positive effect on gaining control of what foods you choose to feed your body.

Sleep

It’s well known that good sleep is necessary for many important functions like memory retention and emotional regulation, but it's also been found to play a significant role in the regulation of our appetite hormones leptin (suppressor) and ghrelin (stimulator).

It was found that in just two nights of reduced sleep (4 hours or less), there was an 18% decrease in leptin and 28% increase in ghrelin.

It was also observed that sleep deprivation is associated with irregular eating behavior and poorer quality of food choices.

Social Life

Research shows that significant social ties are associated with living a long life, while social isolation and loneliness are linked to poorer health and even premature death.

Although our needs for social time can vary, we by nature are social beings that have a biological need for community and connection.

Some literature has even linked loneliness with addiction and disordered eating.

 

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Social Life

The experience of eating good, healthy food should bring you joy, but the reward system in your brain can get hijacked by high amounts of sugar and fat in processed foods that can overshadow your natural joy in eating food like fruit and vegetables. In some cases, this could result in food addiction.

A study done on mice revealed that sugar is actually more addictive than cocaine. It lights up our dopamine receptors like it’s the 4th of July and keeps us consistently coming back for more.

Sugar was originally limited in nature and used to be an occasional delicacy mostly limited to certain growing seasons, but now it’s everywhere and in everything. If you find yourself struggling with this issue you might want to detox from sugar by restricting processed food and sugar intake.

People are also more likely to obtain joy primarily from food if they're struggling with their happiness.

Happiness comes from within and is linked to feelings of gratitude and pride.

When you're lacking in this area, you're more likely to replace it with a temporary quick fix like shopping or indulging in sugary or fatty foods.

These choices many times end up making the situation worse and worse as debt or pounds start piling up, causing more unhappiness.

This issue can be addressed by identifying what internal struggles are causing you to be unhappy.

Sometimes, this can be remedied by beginning a gratitude journal or finding more opportunities for creative or social outlets.

 

friends-painting-ceramics

Factor #3 Life Experience

Knowledge

What you know about healthy eating greatly varies from what you’ve personally learned and experienced.

Even general knowledge about a healthy diet has evolved over the years and the U.S. food pyramid consistently changed in reflection.

There's also a lot of conflicting information regarding what's actually considered a healthy diet.

Knowing how to make the healthier choice when dining out could also make a difference in what you choose to eat.

A lack of knowledge about eating healthy can damage your health, while learning and applying the concepts of a healthy diet could potentially delay disease and extend your life.

 

Beliefs & Attitudes

Like knowledge, these can vary from culture to culture and decade to decade.

Not so long ago, it was popularized in western culture that ‘fat is bad and sugar is good’. Well, see where that got us.

Crash or fad diets are another area that influence our attitudes about food choices, whether it be Hollywood juice cleanses, keto, paleo, or carnivore diets.

Although there can be some health benefits, the problem is often that they're unsustainable long-term, and can cause a yo-yo diet effect, discouragement, and even metabolic dysfunction.

 

Skills

Do you know your way around a kitchen? Your food choices can also be influenced by your cooking ability.

If you’re not familiar with following a recipe, or with the difference on how to mince, dice, or cube a food item, chances are you aren’t eating as healthy as you could be.

If this is you, consider taking a cooking class or searching on YouTube for some tutorials.

 

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Now that you know the many ways that our choices are influenced, you can practice mindfulness by being aware of why you're tempted to make these choices and take action to begin making the healthier choice.

Here's to being your HEALTHIEST!

 

 

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Choosing a healthy plant-based and vegan diet is most beneficial when it comes to:

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  • Higher levels of energy;

  • Improved sleep;

  • Aids in energy and overall happiness;

  • Provides a sense of comfort and relief;

  • Could prevent major diseases such as obesity and diabetes;

  • Accomplish weight-loss and management; and

  • Improves mental and cognitive functioning.

There are really no excuses not to try healthier habits in your everyday life. If you are a man or woman looking for specific benefits of adopting healthier habits or just want to know about the general healing properties of herbs. Please remember to comment or post any health questions, or contact us directly!

Also feel free to share any of your favorite recipes to make and share it with the Assuaged community on our ➡️ Share A Recipe ⬅️ page!

 

Reference

CDC. (2014). STRESS...At Work. Retrieved September 29th, 2021 from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101/default.html#:~:text=Job%20stress%20can%20be%20defined%20as%20the%20harmful,challenge%2C%20but%20these%20concepts%20are%20not%20the%20same.

Dashti, H. S., Scheer, F. A., Jacques, P. F., Lamon-Fava, S., & Ordovás, J. M. (2015). Short sleep duration and dietary intake: epidemiologic evidence, mechanisms, and health implications. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 6(6), 648–659. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.115.008623

Harvard Health Publishing (2021). Why Stress Causes People to Overeat. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/why-stress-causes-people-to-overeat

Hayden, J. (2019). Introduction to Health Behavior Theory (3rd ed.). Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Healthline. (2017). Coping with depression and overeating. Retrieved October 1, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression-and-overeating#the-link

Healthy People 2020 (2021). Access to Foods That Support Healthy Eating Patterns. https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/social-determinants-health/interventions-resources/access-to-foods-that-support-healthy-eating-patterns

Koenig H. G. (2012). Religion, spirituality, and health: the research and clinical implications. ISRN psychiatry, 2012, 278730. https://doi.org/10.5402/2012/278730

New Health Advisor. (2020). Factors Influencing Food Choices. Retrieved September 29th, 2021 from https://www.newhealthadvisor.org/Factors-Influencing-Food-Choices.html

NIH News in Health. (2017). Do Social Ties Affect Our Health? https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2017/02/do-social-ties-affect-our-health#:~:text=Wide-ranging%20research%20suggests%20that%20strong%20social%20ties%20are,relationships%20may%20help%20reduce%20stress%20and%20heart-related%20risks.

Ryan P. (2009). Integrated Theory of Health Behavior Change: background and intervention development. Clinical nurse specialist CNS, 23(3), 161–172. https://doi.org/10.1097/NUR.0b013e3181a42373

Vansomerin, L. (2021). The 50/30/20 Rule of Thumb for Budgeting. The Balance. Retrieved September 27th, 2021 from https://www.thebalance.com/the-50-30-20-rule-of-thumb-453922#:~:text=The%2050%2F30%2F20%20rule%20of%20thumb%20is%20a%20guideline,to%20be%20adjusted%20based%20on%20your%20personal%20circumstances.

Wei, S., Bilbao, A., Spanagel, R. (2018). Sugar-addictive phenotypes in mice,
European Neuropsychopharmacology, 28 (1), 23. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.euroneuro.2017.12.043.

 

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