Have you ever gone through a phase where your dietary choices were quite limited? Or perhaps you’ve found yourself heavily favoring one or two foods for a period of time – and then suddenly you lose your desire for those few foods and you’re off to the next “food kick”? As it turns out, these patterns around eating have some interesting evolutionary reasons, as well as some nutritional advantages. At the same time, such a way of eating can also be problematic. So, if you’re interested in learning more, please check out this fascinating video from IPEtv where Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, explains the simple science and psychology behind this intriguing phenomenon.
In the comments below, please let us know your thoughts. We love hearing from you and we read and respond to every comment!
Here is a transcript of this week’s video:
Hi, I’m Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.
Today’s topic: Do You Find Yourself Eating the Same Foods all the Time?
So many people have a very specific diet.
We must focus on eating a small range of foods.
We might find ourselves heavily favoring one or two foods for long periods of time. We might go through phases where our dietary choices are quite limited.
The question is, does this make any kind of nutritional sense? Is it helpful? Is it harmful? And what does it say about us if we find ourselves consuming the same foods over and over again?
In five minutes or less, we’re going to take a look at the perfectly good reasons as to why we often limit our diets to a small amount of foods.
We’re also going to look at the challenges that can happen around such dietary limitations. And I’ll introduce some quick and easy strategies that can improve health, boost nutritional metabolism, and help you have a more enlightened relationship with food.
First, if you find yourself eating the same foods all the time, here’s why that might make perfect sense:
Many cultures around the globe have evolved with a small range of food choices. Eskimos traditionally consumed a diet of mostly whale blubber. Pacific Islanders were limited to fruit, fish, and coconut. Certain African tribes have as the bulk of their food source – cassava, while for generations, the Irish relied on potatoes.
Humans have not always been blessed with tons of variety in terms of our evolutionary development. So if your diet feels limited, to a large degree, you’re following the course of evolution and staying true to how your ancestors ate in terms of variety.
Next, when the body learns to survive on a limited range of food choices, it indeed has a better chance of survival. This is one of the brilliant features of the human body. It can survive on all kinds of very challenging dietary shortages. Survival is the name of the game.
Another advantage to having a small range of food choices is that it allows us to more successfully focus on growing or procuring those foods. Our ancestors had an evolutionary advantage as they became more and more masterful at farming certain crops or raising certain animals or hunting and foraging for very specific foodstuffs.
Lastly, it makes sense that we might stay limited to a small amount of food choices because there’s a convenience and safety factor here. Humans like the familiar. We are often suspicious of the unfamiliar. Think of all the times when you might have visited a foreign country or even gone to another state or region and you were offered a strange food that didn’t seem quite safe or palatable. Everybody around you might be eating that food, but your instincts might drive you otherwise.
So, I’ve just mentioned the reasons why it makes perfect metabolic sense that our dietary choices are limited.
Now, here are the challenges of this way of eating:
Limiting our food choices limits our nutrient profile. Simply put, the more food choices we have, the greater the potential to expand our nutritional profile. In the United States for instance, social anthropologists have noted that body size, body height, muscle mass, and bone density all increased in a dramatic and very advantageous way when Americans began to introduce more protein and calcium-containing foods into the diet in the latter part of the industrial era. Without this dietary expansion, our evolutionary potential would have remained limited.
In more extreme cases, restrictive food choices can limit our ability to survive. If we rely on one crop for our nutrition, and that crop fails, consider yourself nutritionally doomed. The history of the world can be written as a history of hunger, famine, and a failed ability to find food in an environment that has become subject to dramatic weather change.
Limiting our food choices will also overemphasize the toxic or problematic nature of certain foods – examples of this include gluten, sugar, GMOs, and others.
And lastly, we can easily become nutritionally lazy and not experiment. The most successful organisms in the environment and throughout evolutionary history tend to have the widest range of diet.
But there’s a whole other dimension to look at when it comes to the times that we find ourselves eating the same foods on a consistent basis.
There’s the times when we might get attached to a very specific food and will eat lots of it for weeks on end. Do you do this, or have you ever done so? You might go through a phase where you’re just eating a ton of salad, or you’re eating lots of avocados, or you’re just devouring watermelon, or you can’t get enough yogurt, or fish, or whatever the specific food is that you’re drawn to.
In this case, we can assume that the body needs this food and body wisdom is speaking. Nature will often provide us with a mono-diet for a short amount of time because that’s what’s growing, and that’s what’s in harmony with nature. When something’s in season, we need it. Great if we can find a way to store it, but oftentimes, we have to be pragmatic. The bottom line is this: there’s often a very powerful wisdom that’s happening in the body when we’re attracted to a mono-diet
So the question is then, can you trust your body wisdom? Can you notice when it makes sense to stick with a certain food until your body no longer craves it?
Obviously, if you find yourself wanting Ben & Jerry’s ice cream every day for weeks on end, this is likely not the wisdom of nature and the wisdom of evolution speaking through your body. It’s all about learning to discern. It’s about learning to trust the body and to experiment.
It’s also a great idea if your diet has been limited to start expanding.
Get some advice, get some coaching, speak to your knowledgeable friends, do online research, read and explore, and see what you can add to your diet just to mix things up and increase your metabolic potential.
Your body just might thank you for it. I hope this was helpful.
Become a Mind Body Eating Coach
Summer 2023 enrollment begins soon.
Make real, lasting change - in your life and the lives of others using eating psychology coaching tools.
Subscribe to The Psychology of Eating Podcast
Get notified when new episodes go live.