Wahl, D. R., Villinger, K., Blumenschein, M., König, L. M., Ziesemer, K., Sproesser, G., Schupp, H. T., & Renner, B. (2020). Why we eat what we eat: Assessing dispositional and in-the-moment eating motives by using Ecological Momentary Assessment. JMIR mHealth & uHealth, 8(1), 1-14. doi: 10.2196/13191
Background: Why do we eat? Our motives for eating are diverse, ranging from hunger and liking to social norms and affect regulation. Although eating motives can vary from eating event to eating event, which implies substantial moment-to-moment differences, current ways of measuring eating motives rely on single timepoint questionnaires that assess eating motives as situation-stable dispositions (traits). However, mobile technologies including smartphones allow eating events and motives to be captured in real time and real life, thus capturing experienced eating motives in-the-moment (states).
Objective: This study aimed to examine differences between why people think they eat (trait motives) and why they eat in the moment of consumption (state motives) by comparing a dispositional (trait) and an in-the-moment (state) assessment of eating motives.
Methods: A total of 15 basic eating motives included in The Eating Motivation Survey (ie, liking, habit, need and hunger, health, convenience, pleasure, traditional eating, natural concerns, sociability, price, visual appeal, weight control, affect regulation, social norms, and social image) were assessed in 35 participants using 2 methodological approaches: (1) a single timepoint dispositional assessment and (2) a smartphone-based ecological momentary assessment (EMA) across 8 days (N=888 meals) capturing eating motives in the moment of eating. Similarities between dispositional and in-the-moment eating motive profiles were assessed according to 4 different indices of profile similarity, that is, overall fit, shape, scatter, and elevation. Moreover, a visualized person × motive data matrix was created to visualize and analyze between- and within-person differences in trait and state eating motives.
Results: Similarity analyses yielded a good overall fit between the trait and state eating motive profiles across participants, indicated by a double-entry intraclass correlation of 0.52 (P<.001). However, although trait and state motives revealed a comparable rank order (r=0.65; P<.001), trait motives overestimated 12 of 15 state motives (P<.001; d=1.97). Specifically, the participants assumed that 6 motives (need and hunger, price, habit, sociability, traditional eating, and natural concerns) are more essential for eating than they actually were in the moment (d>0.8). Furthermore, the visualized person × motive data matrix revealed substantial interindividual differences in intraindividual motive profiles.
Conclusions: For a comprehensive understanding of why we eat what we eat, dispositional assessments need to be extended by in-the-moment assessments of eating motives. Smartphone-based EMAs reveal considerable intra- and interindividual differences in eating motives, which are not captured by single timepoint dispositional assessments. Targeting these differences between why people think they eat what they eat and why they actually eat in the moment may hold great promise for tailored mobile health interventions facilitating behavior changes.