Social and Situational Influences on Feeding Behavior

There are a number of social and situational influences on food intake in humans. In general, the shorter the time period of measurement the greater the effect of situational and social influences. Thus, there are a large number of factors that can influence single meal size in humans. These factors are summarized in Figure 4.

Time of day appears to influence meal size in that the amount eaten and the EI increases on going from breakfast, to lunch to the evening meal. Meal size also increases across the feeding period in rats. It has been suggested that this occurs in learned anticipation of the energy requirements in the fasting period (night for humans, day for rats)6. Meal size and EI

No. of people present

No. of people present

Water availability

Sensory-specific satiety

Energy content of food

Degree of prior deprivation

Figure 4 Major factors known to affect single meal size in humans. In general, the shorter the time interval of measurement the greater the influence of these factors on feeding behavior.

Water availability

Figure 4 Major factors known to affect single meal size in humans. In general, the shorter the time interval of measurement the greater the influence of these factors on feeding behavior.

tend to be greater at weekends than on weekdays in Western adults. Meal size also varies as a power function of the number of people present at a meal. DeCastro has termed this effect 'social facilitation' of feeding. Social facilitation and daily routine account for much of this effect.

Seasonality can influence feeding. A number of studies suggest that EI, meal size, and eating rate are all elevated in the autumn. In one particular study hunger was associated with meal size in winter and spring, but not so clearly in the autumn.

cognition at odds with physiological drives can result in pathologies of eating since the normal 'regulatory' processes are cognitively undermined. According to Herman and Polivy, these aberrations can extend into disturbances of emotion and cognition, which, in extremis, may partially underlie the increase in the prevalence of eating disorders. Furthermore, it is argued that restraint will increase the probability that a person will break a diet. It has been shown that an intervention (usually a preload) that breaks the rules of restraint, almost paradoxically induces a greater intake. This phenomenon has been termed 'counter-regulation.' This effect is cognitive, since it can be induced by deceiving a restrained eater into believing that a preload was high in calories. Because the concept of restraint has predictable behavioral outcomes it is a useful tool in characterizing different people with respect to their feeding behavior.

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