Nature vs Nurture: How it Affects Your Relationship with Food

Nature vs Nurture - How it Affects Your Relationship With Food

Nature may have a lot to do with our food choices and overall relationship with food. Just as you are born with a particular shape to your face, head, nose, and set of your eyes and eye color, you are destined to reach a certain height, and you are also born with an inherent neurotransmitter profile.

The Case for Nature: Laboratory Studies

In the laboratory, rats with individual “personalities” will select different combinations of food from other rats. Some rats love fat and, if allowed to eat all they want of whatever they want, choose up to 60% of their calories from fat. Fat-eating rats can end up being obese, but some do not. Some rats love their carbohydrates and ignore the fat altogether. Most of these rats are lean unless their preference is for the sweet carbohydrates such as sugar, in which case they are more likely to be overweight.

These experiments lend credence to the theory that all people do not have the same food preferences and responses to food. But, it is also clear that whatever we are going to be it is there at birth and in fact, is well developed by age 3. This also means that your relationship to food to also set by age 3. But, is that it? Or do we have any ability to control this relationship in future years if we so desire? This is worth taking a look at.

The Case for Nurture: Creating Habits

You may not be able to change your genetic makeup, but you can coax your neurotransmitters a little through a few simple dietary and lifestyle habit changes. Even slight changes in your appetite- and mood- control chemicals can have dramatic effects on your outlook, mood, eating habits, sleep patterns, ability to think and remember, and personality. If your eating habits are fueling your mood problems, even minor changes in when and what you eat could help you to feel and think your best.

Genetics versus Environment

More studies on our relationship with food come from research done by behaviorists that study early childhood. It is fair to say that most studies conclude that we are what we are going to be at an early age. Much of this can be as a result of our overall personality and the tendencies that result from “who we are.”

In 30 years of practice, I have met many different styles and choices of eating preferences in people. Some, have a deep relationship with their foods and some just do not care at all what they eat. This part of our personality will not change but can also be altered upon some determination.

Most of what we are is established early, so much so that research states that in our early years we are operating on almost all determinations as a result of genetics. Later in life, by as early as age 7, we have already started to make alterations as a result of newly learned behaviors, as a result of our environment.

Some writers, such as Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, in her book, “Food and Mood,” (1996) provides extensive Eating Style Assessments, that will help you determine what kind of eater you are and what your preferences are. This type of information will help you to determine whether or not you will be able to have good eating habits or poor ones. Nonetheless, be sure to determine that you can always make changes if you so desire.

Making changes in eating habits can be easier than you think!

Getting set to make some changes can be easily done with the right amount of thought and planning. There are several steps in making a change. It starts with mentally thinking through the steps and what, exactly you want to accomplish.

For example, do you want a better eating schedule, more food earlier in the day, less snacking? Websites such as have good information and basic steps on how to get started.

Here are some good ideas for changing your relationship with food:

  • Do some reading and make out a plan for what you want to do. Make sure you are considering the short-term and long-term results that you want.
  • Human behavior being what it is, think about what you will do when things start to go badly. For example, when you’re late at work and nothing to eat, and any other components that may sidetrack your plans.
  • Plan your new behaviors and get excited about what you are about to do. Think about yourself being successful.
  • Try to get your fitness in every day if possible.
  • Meditation and yoga of all types will definitely be helpful to smooth out the tense days we are all involved with.
  • Get plenty of sleep. And, before you get up in the morning visualize yourself walking through the steps of a successful day. This is an unbeatable technique.
  • Think about your particular food likes, what’s to go and what’s to stay. No diet is perfect but can be greatly improved with just a little effort. These changes have to be of your choosing and no one else. When you meet with the Dietitian at Elite Sports Clubs it is not her idea to change everything you eat. Rather, she has the counseling skills necessary to “fit the pieces together” so that you have the plan you want. Sometimes this can be difficult.
  • Keep in mind your goals for overall health. This is all a part of the bigger picture. If you have a history of Type II Diabetes in your family, you will also need to be mindful of that.

Lastly, your relationship with food, just like any other relationship, can be changed completely or simply altered. You don’t need to feel that you are without any capabilities. With some thought, you CAN maintain a healthy lifestyle and do not need to feel you are a victim of any circumstance in your life.

Schedule a Nutrition Consultation

Rita Larsen Registered Dietitian at Elite Sports Clubs

Written by Rita Larsen, RDN, CD; Guest Contributor

Rita is certified in Positive Psychology, the University of Penn; has a BS in Dietetics from Kansas State University; and an Internship and Masters at the Indiana University Medical Center.