food and behavior

Food and Behavior: How Meals Shape Our Personality

Connecting with Food – Episode 3

Our body is a factory and the brain, is its operator. What we are doing when we are eating is reacting to suggestions from the brain based on information given by our senses. If a food is too salty, then the brain gives the feedback on appropriate reaction to the taste, based on previous learning. So, you either make a face, or grin it out depending on the situation. Well, that is how an adult behaves. But what about a child? If the food is too salty, he just makes a face, whether the food has been prepared by his mother or his mother’s aunt. It is at this point, that the adult intervenes and says – “don’t make that face in front of others!”

So, the great brain picks up this reaction too. And that is how the child learns and hones the great performance that is called eating.

What happens during the act of eating?

In my earlier post, I had written about how the ear is a key operator when we eat food. Here’s what happens next.

Imagine your parents to be scientists. What would a typical meal time conversation centre around? Discoveries, inventions, experiments, and observations. As a toddler, your ear picks up these conversations and when you see that your parents are involved in intense discussions over these topics, your brain forms this algorithm.

Food = Calm
Food + Family = Calm
Food + Family + Conversation = Calm
Then, you begin to put yourself in your parent’s shoes. This is the main reason why the child goes – I want to grow up quickly.

What happens after this?

What happens after this, is that you go in search of this calm for the rest of your life.

My brother and I had a childhood where the sound of stories filled our ears during eating time. We have always been looking for stories ever since. While my brother is content with reading stories for the rest of his life, I made a wish. I put myself in the shoes of the story-teller. I wished that I could tell a story. So, my brain got a new algorithm.

Food + Stories + Storyteller + Storytelling = Calm

Since, I was a listener and not a talker, my brain began to connect me to all the activities that were involved with silent storytelling – the written word.

So, Calm = storytelling = English + prose + poetry + grammar

And guess what, I have always been good at the language. Just like my friend, who I mentioned in the earlier post, who has connected with her love for food.

But, there are always two sides to a coin

Now imagine the other experiences. A dinner table where the parents are arguing, where the parents are absent, or where the parents are connected to virtual reality. The child would grow up with unhealthy eating habits, and without inspiration. And, I know a few who grew up that way.

A Silent Table

My best friend, hated meal times as a child because she was all alone during that time. Her parents, both working, were absent during these hours. What my friend heard was silence. So, her brain went in search of noise. The first thing that it found was the sound of music, and her hearing sense picked up the sound of music. While it began to appreciate music, it also began to pick up notes played by others. Result – my friend could learn what others played, but could never learn what her teacher taught her.

Why was this?

In the absence of humans as teachers, my friend got used to understanding things by herself. So, she did not listen to her music teacher, or any teacher at school. She did not listen to her parents, she never has and never will. My friend was very naughty as a child, and a naughty child is a child who will never listen to others, other than itself. That was how my friend became a self-learner. She failed most of her subjects, until the time she began learning by herself. My friend loves to talk because she loves the sound of her own voice, and it is the only voice she will ever listen to.

The Noisy Table

My other friend, experienced noisy dinner affairs. Her parents used to fight over scarcity of money at the table. I have seen my friend cry several times at school over this. Her parents were accountants and she turned out to be a great accountant, who was completely dissatisfied about her job despite earning much more than most of us did.

Why was this?

My friend’s brain algorithm was like this – Food + family + money was Not Equal to Calm. So, she never got her calm until she quit her job, and took up a more contented job as a part-time people-manager, because all she has ever wanted is for people to, not fight.

The Table In-between

My brother and I listened to stories. But, we were silent listeners – we have never interrupted the story-teller. The consequence of this was that we have always preferred a book or a movie over talk. But this does not bode well with our life-partners, who are both extremely talkative. We find it very difficult to make conversations with others, and are often hesitant to approach others with questions or opinions. As children, we were probably told not to ask questions by our story-tellers.

Meal times with family can make or break us. So how can we make group dining work for us? Find out in my next post.

But before that let’s do some self-introspection;
• Have you followed your favourite take away from your conversations over food? 
• How have you done that?
• What do you talk during family dinners as an adult?
• What do you talk about during meals with your friends?
• Have you observed the impact of your conversations on your child?
• If so, what is the impact?


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