Nutrition and Weight Control - Psychological aspects of food and meals

Food and meals play an important role in emotional well-being and interpersonal relationships as well as in physical health and appearance.

During Infancy

The infant whose needs are attended to by a loving family develops a general sense of trust and security. The major contribution to his emotional contentment is probably made at mealtimes, and perhaps in a special way if he is breast-fed.

For most infants, food comes to be identified with love, pleasure, protection, and the satisfaction of basic needs. If there is an atmosphere of tension accompanying his feeding times, his digestion can be impaired in such a way as to cause vomiting, fretting, or signs of colic. If the tension and the baby's reaction to it—and inevitably the mother's increasing tension as a consequence—become a chronic condition, the result may be a failure to gain weight normally, and in extreme cases, some degree of mental retardation. Throughout life, good nutrition depends not only on eating properly balanced meals that satisfy the body's physiological requirements, but also on a reasonable degree of contentment and relaxation while eating.

Everybody develops individual emotional reactions and attitudes about food and its role as a result of conditioning during the years of infancy and childhood. These attitudes relate not only to food itself and to mealtimes in general, but also to other aspects of eating, including the muscle activities of sucking, chewing, and swallowing.

If food symbolized contentment during the early years, it probably will have the same role later on. If it was associated with conflict, then it may be associated throughout life with strife and neurotic eating patterns.

During Childhood

For the preschool child, mealtimes should provide the occasion for the development of interpersonal relationships, because they are a daily opportunity for both verbal and nonverbal self-expression. The child who eats with enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment is conveying one message; the one who dawdles, picks at food, and challenges his mother with every mouthful is conveying quite a different one.

Meals can become either positive or negative experiences depending in large part on how the adults in the family set the stage. Communication can be encouraged by relaxed conversation and a reasonably leisurely schedule. It can be discouraged by watching television or reading while eating, by not eating together, or by eating and running.

Fat Content of Some Common Foods

Fat Content of Some Common Foods
Food Percentage of calories from fat
Note: The U.S. Government recommends that no more than 30 percent of dally calories come from fat.
Brazil nuts 92
Pecans 90
Avocado 83
Almonds 81
Peanuts 79
Pistachio nuts 77
Sunflower seed kernels, roasted 76
Cheese, American processed 76
Cheese, Cheddar 71
Salami, cooked 71
Mozzarella, whole-milk 68
Ricotta, whole-milk 67
Cheese, Swiss 67
Pork, ground, cooked 64
Mozzarella, part-skim 63
Ground beef, lean, broiled 62
Pot roast, braised 62
Egg 59
Ground beef, extra lean, broiled 58
Ricotta, part-skim 52
Granola 51
Cheese, Swiss, reduced-fat 51
Milk, whole, 3.3% fat 48
Croissant 47
Yogurt, plain, whole-milk , 45
Sockeye salmon, baked or broiled 44
Chicken, roasted, dark meat, without skin 41
Milk, low-fat, 2% fat 37
Pork loin, tenderloin, roasted 31
Chicken drumstick, without skin 31
Chicken, roasted, light meat, without skin 28
Milk, low-fat, 1% fat 26
Yogurt, plain, low-fat 25
Halibut, baked or broiled 23
Turkey leg, without skin 20
Chicken breast, without skin 19
Oatmeal, instant 17
Hamburger or hot dog bun 15
Whole wheat bread 13
Cottage cheese, 1% fat 11
Shrimp, steamed, poached, or broiled 11
Corn 10
Milk, skim <10
Egg noodles 8
Kidney beans, dry 8
Rice, brown 8
English muffin 7
Garbanzo beans (chickpeas), canned, solids and liquid 6
Bagel, plain 5
Spaghetti or macaroni 5
Rice, white <4
Fruits 0
Green, leafy vegetables 0

Reasonably firm attitudes about eating a variety of foods in proper quantities at proper times and avoiding excessive catering to individual whims can also help in the development of wholesome eating patterns.

Those who select and prepare the food can transmit special messages of love and affection by serving favorite dishes, by setting the table attrac lively, and by creating an atmosphere of grace and good humor. Or they can show displeasure and generate hostility by complaining about all the work involved in feeding everyone, or by constant criticism of table manners, or by bringing up touchy subjects likely to cause arguments at the table.

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