Eating behavior: lessons from the real world of humans

Nutrition. 2000 Oct;16(10):800-13. doi: 10.1016/s0899-9007(00)00414-7.


Food intake by normal humans has been investigated both in the laboratory and under free-living conditions in the natural environment. For measurement of real-world intake, the diet-diary technique is imperfect and tends to underestimate actual intakes but it appears to be sensitive, can detect subtle influences on eating behavior, and produces reliable and valid measures. Research studies in the real world show the multivariate richness of the natural environment, which allows investigation of the complexities of intake regulation, and even causation can be investigated. Real-world research can overcome some of the weaknesses of laboratory studies, where constraints on eating are often removed or missing, facilitatory influences on eating are often controlled or eliminated, the importance of variables can be overestimated, and important influences can be missed because of the short durations of the studies. Real-world studies have shown a wide array of physiologic, psychological, and social variables that can have potent and immediate effects on intake. Compensatory mechanisms, including some that operate with a 2- to 3-d delay, adjust for prior excesses. Heredity affects all aspect of food-intake regulation, from the determination of body size to the subtleties of the individual preferences and social proclivities and the extent to which environmental factors affect the individual. Hence, real-world research teaches valuable lessons, and much more is needed to complement laboratory studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Appetite Regulation*
  • Diet
  • Diet Records
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Eating / psychology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Design*
  • Seasons
  • Social Environment
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors