Food stories: Unraveling the mechanisms underlying healthful eating

Emily Swan*, Laura Bouwman, Noelle Aarts, Leah Rosen, Gerrit Jan Hiddink, Maria Koelen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The biomedical model of health (BMH) studies the causes and origins of disease. When applied to nutrition research, eating is studied as a behavior that supports physical health. However, the lack of attention the BMH pays to social and historical circumstances in which health behaviors are constructed has been widely addressed in literature. When people are studied without considering contextual influences, the relevance to everyday life is limited. As a result, how individuals actively deal with their context to manage healthful eating is poorly understood. This research applies a complementary model, salutogenic model of health (SMH), and uses life course research methodology to study a group of healthy eaters. The purpose of this research is to unravel how healthful eating develops in everyday life. Healthy eaters (n = 17) were identified and recruited from the NQplus research panel at Wageningen University, the Netherlands. Life course experiences were examined through narrative inquiry. Participants recalled and visually explored life experiences with food and health using timelines. Results indicate that healthful eating results from exposure to individual- and context-bounded factors during childhood and adulthood and involves specific mental and social capacities relevant to coping including amongst others, critical self-awareness; flexibility, craftiness, and fortitude. Through life-course learning moments, participants were able to develop proactive coping strategies which strengthened their sense of agency and helped them in overcoming stressors and challenges. Findings show that nutrition strategies should not only focus on strengthening food-specific factors like cooking skills and nutrition knowledge, but other factors like stress management, empowerment, and participation. Such factors support the development of adaptive skills and behaviors, enable individuals to deal with the demands of everyday life, and are building blocks for health promotion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)456-463
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


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