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As you may already have known, one of the key factors that fuels overweight and obesity is poor dietary pattern. Poor diet is not only centred on poor nutrient value but also our eating habits and eating behaviour.

A number of reasons such as physiological, biological, psychological and even cultural reasons are behind what determines our choice of food and will to eat. There are two main drivers that influence what we eat, how we eat and stopping us from eating, those drivers are, hunger and appetite.

Hunger: This is the biological, physiological phenomenon that drives us to get food. This happens when our brain receives information and tells us to find food. We must understand that hunger is not specific any food will do.

Appetite: This is the psychological desire to consume specific foods. It is aroused by environmental cues such as smell, taste, touch and sight. Even when you are not hungry, you have desire to eat specific foods because the environmental triggers are encouraging you to eat. This is where personal discipline and will for self-control and restrain come in.


Hunger and Eating: The sight of food and the smell of food make us hungry. The smell of food and the different kinds of food we put in our stomach secrets different kinds of acids that most times elicit faster digestive response, elicit growling and the hunger hormone elicits insulin. This just gets you ready to eat and makes you hungry. Eating is only a response action is such conditions.


We will quickly look at a study done by some Psychologists who placed rats in a cage and placed Chow (doglike meal made of soya) and tastes pretty bad but had all the ingredients the rat needed. The rats carefully ate as much as they needed and nothing more, they ate exactly what was needed to live and stopped. Another study was done placing same rats in a cage with supermarket meals as sausages, cheese, chocolates, condensed sweetened milk and many more. The rats did eat, eat and got fat. This study tells us, we do not just eat when we are hungry; we eat because of the presence of lots of food around us and even very good food afterwards.

It is important to realise we do not stop eating food when we are actually full, what we must do is to learn how much food makes us full and eat that amount of food  and stop when we think we should. Always try to remember what you ate in your last meal; it will make you eat less in your current meal.

There are other factors that influence our decisions to eat, these includes:

Emotions: People react differently to emotions; some people eat more when they are bored or upset while some take a break in such moments. Mood-dependent eating.

Medications: Certain medications we are on can impact our hunger and appetite for food. Some medications can make you feel hungry while others can get you irritated even at the smell or sight of food. Specific examples are pregnancy and chemotherapy.

Satiety: This is a feeling of fullness. Foods in larger volume of carbohydrates make us feel full too quickly while foods high in protein also keep us full for longer hours. Liquids do not induce satiety as much as solids. Similar amount of sugar beverage drink may not induce satiety for the same amount of calories.

Involuntary conditions: This is a certain level of state or condition that does not allow people to have access to food. Examples are poverty, draught and war. It is difficult to find people that have weight in excess under such conditions.

Social cultural influences: People of different faith follow different dietary patter leading to different health outcomes. Certain region promote vegetarian diet, there are period of times when certain kinds of food are not eaten or certain times when specific foods must be eaten.

All these factors as highlighted affect eating habits and decisions as well as having a great influence on our body weight and health.


Different food can provide different nutrients but same nutrients can also be found in different kinds of food. We all require the same nutrients but this can vary based on gender, age, life cycle (e.g. pregnant women need some specific nutrients in food more at this stage, pre-menopausal women need more iron than post-menopausal women). Men at some level of activities need more calories than women, so foods heavy in calories are appropriate at such times within their life’s cycle.


  • Carbohydrate
  • Lipids (fats and oils)
  • Protein
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Water

Carbohydrates, Lipids and Protein are also known and classified as Macronutrients. They provide energy and calories in our diet.

Vitamins and Minerals are also known and classified as Micronutrients. The body needs them mostly in small amounts.

Vitamins, minerals and water assist in regulating our body functions. They do not provide calories but critical in deriving energy from the food that we eat.


Sodium: This is one mineral that we eat much of on virtually every meal. This comes from salt and also added to processed food, high consumption of it is associated with high blood pressure and hypertension. Cautionary clause recommended! Discourage the use of table salt and use less salt in cooking your meals.

Water: This is very essential for life. Daily adequate consumption is essential for health, water is also nutrient. Not only does water provide support for our metabolism needs, it is also helpful in getting rid of the substance we produce when metabolism is completed. In excreting waste water plays a critical role, we need more of water is saying the least.


  • Adult men – About 3 – 5 litres daily
  • Adult women – About 2.7 litres daily

This can come from beverages and foods. The need for water also depends on:

  • Body size
  • Health status
  • Physical activity level
  • Climatic condition

Sources of Water

  • Water
  • Beverage
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Food cooked with water e.g. soups


What do you consider before thinking of food to eat? Some people think of:

  • Convenient food that is nutritious
  • Price
  • Taste
  • Nutrition


Nutrient claims: Those defined by terms such as low calories, fat free, no added salt etc. You must read the claims in each meal pack to be rightly healthy guided on food choice.

Health claims: Statement like “prevents heart disease”, claims that link food to disease state are a must-look-out-for in making healthy food choices.

Structure: These are function claims – all claims are regulated by FDA, NAFDAC etc. You must be sure of who regulates such products before trusting their claims.

As we round off on this, we encourage everyone to always look out for menu bar in any canned or packed food before purchase; this is a display of the nutrient content in percentage quantity per serve. We most times do not look out for this and we end up stocking our pantry with food high in calories than our bodies really need.

Though we are not there yet, but in most countries you have a right to ask for the calorie content per serve in each meal you want in restaurants. But let’s remember the sight and the smell of food compel us to eat but we must also understand it is within our will to apply restraint as a personal cautionary clause. It is in our overall best interest.

We will be looking at physical fitness in out next discussion but before them we hope you do something with the little information we made available here. For further reading, kindly use the links provided below.

The new American Dietary Guideline 2015 – 2020


10 tips for a great plate


Healthy eating habits



Ehi Iden


About the author

Ehi Iden editor