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The 5 Keys to an Ever Changing Diet

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Here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, we don’t believe in one-size-fits-all diets, and our programs are designed to help you find the nutritional path that’s right for YOU. But when you approach your relationship with food as a journey, and bring a spirit of experimentation, you’re likely to find a surprising thing — the destination keeps changing.

You’ll start to observe that there is no one perfect dietary plan that will meet all of your nourishment needs from babyhood to old age. An awareness of some of the key events that may prompt us to change our diet will help us to flow easily with our evolving nutritional requirements.

Join Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, as she explores five factors that often lead us to reimagine our food choices in this revealing new video from #IPEtv!

YouTube video


Here is a transcript of this week’s video:

Hi, I’m Emily Rosen, Chief Operating Officer for the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.

Today’s Topic: The 5 Keys to Our Ever Changing Diet

There are five key factors that influence the changing nature of the body – and hence our diet. These are: lifestyle, environment, season, age, and health. These factors continually intermix to form a new picture of our emotional and biological needs. Let’s look at the details:

#1 – Lifestyle

Think for a moment of the times when your lifestyle changed – a move to a new location, a different job or career, a shift in finances, or a change in your exercise level, sleep schedule, or recreational pursuits. Did your body have different needs? Did it change in noticeable ways? Were you drawn to different foods?

A changing life-style means a changing diet. For example, if you are working at a desk all day, physical exertion is minimized, metabolism decreases, and caloric needs drop. In other words, you require less food. If you switched to a landscaping or construction job, caloric and nutrient needs would automatically rise and your appetite would increase. Body chemistry is dramatically altered simply by switching jobs.

Those working in a high-stress environment or a boring job might find themselves hungrier than usual; food serves either to calm us down or activate our interest when we feel unfulfilled. The same person who is wholeheartedly engaged and 100 percent involved in his or her job might not feel hungry for hours. People who love their job often report they have less desire for food because they are so nourished and energized by their work. Can you recall an instance when you were so absorbed in an activity that you were not hungry at mealtime?

Lifestyle changes also include exercise level and type. A marathon runner has different nutritional needs from a weekend jogger. People often report that upon adopting a type of exercise they have never done before, or simply including any exercise into a sedentary life-style, they begin to crave certain foods.

A change in our daily schedule also brings about changes in body and diet. Many people who switch to a late night schedule or work a “graveyard shift” report digestive discomfort, weight gain, and an assortment of minor health complaints – headaches, joint pains, and grogginess. Research has revealed that digestive capacity is highest at noon, which corresponds to the hottest time of the day. Reversing our schedule so that we eat a big meal in the late evening, when digestive metabolism is at its lowest level, is a challenge to the inherent rhythms of the digestive system and naturally creates disorders in the body.

#2 – Environment

Environment is another important influence in our changing body and diet. People often report that upon moving to a new location, they desire foods indigenous to that environment. One woman from South Carolina moved to Key West, Florida, and instantly developed an appetite for tropical fruit. Another woman moved to Sebastopol, California, one of the primary apple-producing regions in the country, and developed a keen taste for anything apple – juice, sauce, or pie – despite a previous distaste for such things.

An intimate connection exists between the food native to a region and the people living there. In the study of any ecosystem, the organisms within a biological community are integrally linked to the available source of food. It’s not uncommon for animals to move into a new biological niche or territory – whether through population or environmental pressures – and adapt to new foods. Though human beings are not fully bound by the same natural laws as animals – we make psychological food choices more than biological ones – we still remain connected to our surroundings in tangible ways.

Eating the food unique to a given environment joins us to that environment. Just as an old house contains the memories and personalities of the generations that lived there, so too does food contain the essence of its environment. The heart, soul, and character of the land lie within its food.

So, as our surroundings change, we change. Of course these dietary changes have a strong personal component: we’re influenced by the people, the culture, and the excitement of a new environment. But are our biological needs entirely separate from our personal needs? Could there be a place where the two needs merge and nourish us more deeply than either by itself?

#3 – Season

Closely related to environmental changes are seasonal ones. Seasonal cycles exert a profound influence on the needs of the body. For example, body metabolism and temperature normally increase simply by eating food – hence the old adage, “Feed a cold and starve a fever.” During the hot spring and summer months, the sun’s energy warms the body, and we have less need to produce internal heat through the digestive process, so our appetite naturally decreases.

In addition, hot seasonal temperatures stimulate increased perspiration – the body’s mechanism for cooling itself – and hence our need for more fluid to replace the water lost through the skin. Many people recognize this as an increased thirst for cool liquids in the summertime and a corresponding decrease in the desire for hot foods. The environment graciously supports these changes in the body through the availability of fruits and vegetables in the warm seasons, the foods most naturally high in water content. Interestingly, even though metabolism increases in the warmer months, it is often slowed by extremely high temperatures. You may have had the experience of feeling energized in the spring but lethargic in the heat of the summer. Hence the custom of eating hot, spicy foods in hot-weather climates, such as curry in India or chili peppers in Mexico, which increases body metabolism and perspiration.

Conversely, metabolism decreases in the wintertime as body temperature mechanisms are challenged by the cold. Appetite naturally increases at this time as the body yearns for greater caloric intake to help keep its temperature within a normal range. Most people recognize this as a desire for hot foods and soups in the wintertime and an attraction to high-fat and high-protein foods such as meats, cheeses, casseroles, and fried foods. These foods are high in calories, take longer to digest than fruits and vegetables, and yield a sustained heat release in the body over a longer period of time.

Not only does the body call for more food in the winter months, it also calls for more weight, particularly body fat. Researchers have discovered that body weight is generally greatest when the mean January temperature is lowest. This extra body fat is an evolutionary adaptation to insulate us from the cold and provide an emergency source of caloric energy.

#4 – Age

Age is another factor influencing our changing dietary needs. In the course of only a few years, the perfect diet changes from umbilical-cord nourishment to breast milk to simple pureed food. Then the body longs for more complex foods to challenge the digestive system into full function and to meet the child’s growing nutritional needs. It is a miracle that within such a brief time the process of nourishment alters in so many profound ways.

The transformation of body and diet continues into adulthood. You may have noticed the huge amount of food teenagers consume or remember your own ravenous appetite in adolescence. The rate at which a teenage boy grows and metabolizes demands a larger amount of food per pound of body weight relative to other age groups.

On the other hand, you may have noticed the small amounts of food many elderly people consume. Because of their decreased rate of metabolism, they need only a fraction of the calories required to maintain a similar-sized youth. The decrease in metabolism and physical output is why many elderly people can eat small amounts of food and gain weight. Other age-related changes in senior citizens include decreased taste sensation, decreased nutrient needs, and even a drop in the psychological desire for food.

Medical science has certainly focused on the unique nutritional needs of the young and the old, but the ages between twenty and fifty-five are generally clumped together in one homogeneous group. What are the differences in nutritional requirements between a twenty and a thirty-year-old? Between a forty and a fifty-year-old? These distinctions are subtle, yet much remains to be uncovered in this area. In the meantime, suffice it to say that age changes lead to body changes, which lead to diet changes.

#5 – Health

Health is the last key factor influencing diet. Many of us are accustomed to adjusting our diet during common illnesses such as colds, flu, and fever, and during undiagnosed health conditions such as low energy episodes, digestive complaints, or periods of low immunity. The foods we choose may be unusually bland or spicy, appetite may fluctuate, or we may reach for favorite food remedies – teas, soups, fruits, toast, and so on.

For some people, health considerations alter diet for life. Special diets are crucial during chronic illnesses such as heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, and ulcers. Each of these medical conditions has a corresponding therapeutic diet with specific food guidelines to support, or perhaps even heal, the body.

So, I hope you can see how the five factors interact to create a ceaselessly changing diet.

Change is the one constant in life we can count on.

The more we welcome change, respect it and listen to what it’s telling us, the better we can navigate the body’s ever-changing and wise needs. I hope this was helpful.

In the comments below, please let us know your thoughts. We love hearing from you and we read and respond to every comment! 

A stack of a laptop, two books, and an image of Emily Rosen

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