Background: According to the literature, meals consumed at home are healthier than those consumed away from home (AFH), but reasons underlying this protective effect have not been fully understood. Emotional reinforcement of healthy eating patterns at home is examined as a putative contributing mechanism.
Objective: This study examined expectations for within-individual emotional reinforcement of healthy eating at home, reflected in reports of 1) more intense positive and less intense negative affects after healthier meals than at baseline at home (and not in AFH settings) and 2) more intense positive and less intense negative affects reported before a meal being predictive of healthier meals than at baseline at home (and not in AFH settings).
Design: A total of 160 nonobese women reported their eating behavior and momentary emotional states every 2 h, 6 times/d over 10 observation days. We examined observations with meals (breakfast, lunch, or dinner). The participants indicated how momentary eating patterns compared with their own baseline eating patterns (healthier, equal, or less healthy). Concurrent (after meal) and lagged (before meal) emotion scores were specified.
Results: At-home meals were followed by more intense positive emotions and less worry than were AFH meals. As expected, home meals that were healthier than a person's baseline meals were followed by more intense positive emotions, with a relation of opposite direction being observed in AFH settings. At home, more intense premeal positive emotions cued healthier next-meal eating patterns than did those at baseline, with no such relation being observed in AFH settings.
Conclusion: The home is a privileged environment that nurtures healthy eating and in which healthier food choices trigger and are triggered by more positive emotions.