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Obes Res. 2001 Nov;9 Suppl 4:249S-255S.

Determinants of food choice: relationships with obesity and weight control.

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  • 1Unilever Health Institute, Unilever Research Vlaardingen, The Netherlands.


The decision to eat, and to eat particular foods, varies for different individuals and situations. Individual differences in food likes and desires develop throughout life because of differing food experiences and attitudes. There are many internal and external cues, not just stimulation from foods or hunger, which can trigger the immediate desire to eat or orient eating toward certain foods. Food desires and intake are an outcome of interactions between these cues and more stable individual physiological and psychological characteristics. Overweight and obese individuals show a tendency toward greater liking and selection of energy-dense foods, which may contribute to development and maintenance of these conditions. However, although liking (pleasure from eating) is an important part of food choice, it may make only a modest contribution to overall variation in food choice and eating behaviors. Indeed, difficulties of weight control may reflect problems with cues and motivations to eat, rather than with heightened pleasure derived from eating. Paradoxically, individuals highly concerned with food intake and weight control may be particularly susceptible to thoughts, emotions, and situational cues that can prompt overeating and undermine their attempts to restrain eating. Repeat dieting, high day-to-day fluctuations in intakes, and attempts to enforce highly rigid control over eating all seem to be counterproductive to weight control efforts and may disrupt more appropriate food choice behaviors. Longer-term weight maintenance solutions and programs that offer a degree of structuring of the personal food environment, while retaining flexibility in choices, therefore, may be particularly beneficial in weight management.

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