Eating habits refers to what food we eat, how we eat it and why we eat it. Eating habits are influenced by social, cultural, religious, economic and environmental factors. Basically, all people eat to stay alive, but they also eat to show belonging to family or other social groups. Eating habits are linked to acceptable patterns of behavior, known as table manners or etiquette, which differs across cultures. In some countries it is rude to drink straight from the bottle and repulsive to chew and talk with open mouth, in others eating with bare hands and from communal plates is a norm. Eating modes also depend on whether the food is served on formal, informal or special occasions.
Meals are structured combinations of food items served at a definite time throughout the day. The general eating pattern is three meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) a day with snacks between meals. However, healthy eating includes five to six small meals rationed throughout the day helping reduce overeating and burn more calories.
People grow, hunt or fish some of their food or buy it from grocery and food stores. People eat food either in small quantities shortly after the purchase or keep it in fridges and cellars and eat it over time. Some people eat food past its shelf life, others throw leftovers away but there is a growing awareness of the need to reduce food wastage, especially taking in mind the uneven food distribution across the globe. Home-made food is healthier than packaged and processed food as it uses more fresh ingredients and less salt and sugar. Eating in a good company is also a better choice than eating alone as food is more delightful and tasty, more easily absorbed and thus healthier.
What we eat depends on our personal likes and dislikes, on family customs and social and cultural settings. Certain foods are acceptable and even considered delicacies (dogs, turtles) in some cultures and are rare or inappropriate in others. People who are accustomed to some types of food are more eager to eat it. For instance, seafood is common and largely preferred in coastal areas. Still, personal preferences have their say in the choice of food as some people would try different food and flavors regardless of whether it is available, while others would eat only specific types and food combinations.
Eating habits also depend on the social group one belongs to and the values and culture he/she shares with that group. A swimmer will eat certain foods when doing it with friends and other foods when eating with a coach or a fellow swimmer. In the second case, the choice of food will depend more on the swimmers' diet.
Eating habits are also linked to religious practices. Many Buddhists are vegetarians as eating meat is largely associated with killing the animal, which is contradictory with their main principle of causing no harm. Some Buddhists also avoid eating leek, garlic and onion as these foods are believed to cause anger and incite sexual desire. Buddha also guides monks to avoid eating ten types of meat including horse, lion, tiger, snake and elephant meat.
Economic factors such as the availability of food and its cost also affect food choices. The food price and availability, in turn, are related to political factors including trade agreements and food laws. Food labeling also influences what food we choose.
Advertising and media are also factors that may alter our eating habits. While excessive ads on certain foods such as biscuits and chocolate may boost sales, they may also worsen eating habits of youngsters having them pick a sugary or salty snack over an apple or a coke over mineral water. At the same time the abundance of cooking tips, videos and easy-to-follow recipes may improve eating habits making people invent, experiment and serve special meals to family members and friends.
Eating habits change over one's lifespan and across generations. We like certain foods when we are children and prefer others when we are adults. Younger consumers are alarmingly snacking after the US style of a hamburger and French fries. They also eat chocolate bars and biscuits between or instead of regular meals, which leads to obesity and health problems. Grown-ups are more concerned with health issues, though they would hardly change their eating habits unless health problems make them do so.
Healthy eating habits include eating the right food or the proper intake of nutritious substances and eating it in a manner that enhances metabolism and improves one's overall health condition. Eating fatty and spice foods before bedtime, eating while watching TV, staring at your laptop or talking over the phone, eating too fast and eating a lot are bad eating habits that should be avoided.