A new study asked people all over the world to rate how healthy their food intake was over the course of the day. The results indicate a pattern of healthy eating in the morning, followed by fewer and fewer healthy choices as the day progresses. For many people, all over the planet, it becomes harder to continue eating right once the sun goes down. You can view an interactive map of this data here.
Of course, this is far from scientific. The data was gathered by an iPhone app called The Eatery, which allows users to take a photo of their food and self-rate how healthy it is. So this is really a study about the food habits of iPhone users, which is quite a small subset of the worldwide population. There's also a lot of variability to be expected in how people self-rate their meals. Not everyone agrees on the meaning of the word “healthy” even here in America, and indeed, food culture across the globe varies dramatically.
Still, there is insight to be gained. Why do the eating habits of the participants in this project seem to worsen as the day goes on? There is some suggestion that willpower wears thin as people face more and more tough choices through the day. They are awake, alert, and motivated in the morning but by evening their willpower shows the effects of a stressful day. Perhaps the decrease in healthy intake is due to people fulfilling their commitments and obligations during the day, and having more free time in the later hours with which to indulge their cravings. Or could some facet of our innate psychology direct us to eat more at certain times of day? Maybe our ancestors passed down this trait over many generations because it was so useful to their own survival.
Regardless of the relatively small subset of the population examined, or the reasons behind the phenomenon, clearly there is a trend at work. How can we fight the temptation to eat poorly late in the day? For some people, it may help to do meal planning ahead of time so there are fewer choices to be made at mealtimes. For others, adjusting their schedules to wake up earlier and go to bed earlier may help with late-night snacking. Maybe practicing stress-reduction techniques could help to keep people from seeking their “fix” of junk food.
Most important though, is learning about nutrition so you can tell what is healthy and what isn't. None of these other strategies can replace nutrition education. Above all, we're responsible for our own health, and even if that package of cookies is calling our name or Ronald McDonald says it's ok, we should try to remember that junk food is unhealthy all day long!
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