How often do you stop to think about why you’re eating?

Is it because you’re hungry?

Or is it because you’re out at the football and there’s a meat pie within reach?

And how much do men and women really differ in what they eat?

A University Psychology research project wants to know what we eat, and in what situations, in order to find out what triggers food cravings.

The research, which will focus on the influence of people around us on our eating behaviours, requires 60 volunteers to photograph and log everything they eat or drink and answer a few questions about their mood, and the situation they were in at the time.

The project is also interested in looking at the differences in how men and women eat, and particularly needs around 30 male participants to share their eating habits.

The project is particularly keen to get the views of men.

Participants will be asked to carry a custom-programmed mobile phone for two weeks to log their meal data.

Most research in the area to date has attracted mainly female participants, so there is a real need to find out more about what drives men’s eating behaviour as opposed to women’s.

Psychology researcher Dr Ben Schüz hopes in the long term the research will create a deeper understanding of the complexities of why people eat what they do, and provide a basis for more effective support of people who need to change their diet.

“A lot of the eating we are doing every day is quite mindless. We might eat because someone else is eating, or simply because the food is there.

“We are also interested in how concerns about what is healthy and what isn’t might impact what people eat.

“We know that there are huge differences in what men and women prefer to eat, but we don’t know a lot about why that is – is it because the cues differ, or just because men and women like different food?” he said

If you don’t have expert knowledge about what is healthy, it can be hard to make decisions. Is bacon the new ‘super food,’ or is it kale? We get a lot of information daily from a variety of media about what we should or shouldn’t be eating.

Psychology researchers Thalia Papadakis and Dr Ben Schüz are keen to know what people eat and when.

Honours student Thalia Papadakis, a former My Kitchen Rules contestant, is assisting with the research. She said the switch from cooking on television to researching eating behaviour has been an easy transition.

“I’ve always been interested in food and cooking, and what makes people eat, so I am really excited to be able to learn more about it,” she said. 

How you can take part in the project:

  • Those interested in participating can visit http://tiny.cc/foodchoices
  • Participants will be reimbursed for their time with a $50 voucher.
  • The researchers are particularly interested in the views of men.
  • Participants will need to be based in Hobart and the surrounding areas as they will be required to physically come to the University’s Sandy Bay campus.
  • Participants won’t receive feedback on what they eat, as the phone stores only their responses. Researchers also won’t be able to connect data with any one individual, but the data of all participants will help researchers find out more about what makes people choose healthy or unhealthy food.

Find out more about Psychology at the University of Tasmania.

Interested in conducting your own research? Apply now to become a research student.

About Dr Benjamin Schüz

Dr Schüz is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the School of Medicine. His research is in Health Psychology. Here, he is mainly interested in finding out more about the psychosocial factors responsible for taking up and maintaining health behaviours (or not). His research has implications for health promotion and for our understanding of health-related behaviours over the lifespan.

View Dr Benjamin Schüz's full researcher profile