Not all eating habits are made alike. Some routines may even be beneficial, new study says

A new study on eating habits, forthcoming in the March 2006 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, reveals that not all eating habits are made alike. Adwait Khare (University of Houston) and J. Jeffrey Inman (University of Pittsburgh) identify two ways of characterizing eating habits, which they termed "carryover habit" and "baseline habit." Their findings have important implications for nutritional guidelines and meal planning.

Carryover habit describes meal decisions affected by previous meals. The authors found that what we eat at a meal say, breakfast is more influenced by what we ate at the same meal the previous day than by the other prior meals. Breakfast has the strongest "carryover effect," possibly because we have less time to decide what to eat for breakfast and the most consistent environment for this meal.

Since we tend to eat more "good" nutrients, like calcium, at breakfast and more "bad" nutrients, like saturated fat, at dinner, this carryover might actually be beneficial. However, when the authors examined how much of each nutrient tended to be consumed at each meal, they found that people with a "baseline habit" consistently varied how much of each nutrient they ate according to what meal it was.

"Daily meals are associated with different food values," write the authors.

The authors suggest that instead of providing daily nutritional goals, we might want to embrace multi-day nutritional goals, taking into account how one day's meals affect the next day's meals. Also, knowing that we tend to approach dinner with a different set of habits, can help us look at nutritional goals with more clarity.

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Adwait Khare and J. Jeffrey Inman. "Habitual Behavior in American Eating Patterns: The Role of Meal Occasions." Journal of Consumer Research. March 2006.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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