"You are what you think all day long."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
What You Can Tell About Someone by What They Eat:
Palate Informs Personality, or My Meal Equals Myself
If you are a public figure, think carefully before you eat in public.
From the snarky coverage of John Kasich eating pizza with a knife and fork, in the Bronx to "Sex in the City" star Cynthia Nixon ordering a cinnamon-raisin bagel with lox, red onions, capers, tomato, and cream cheese, which Twitter critics described as a "a crime against the bagel gods," the court of public opinion’s verdict is that you are what you eat — and apparently how you eat it.
In fact, there are many things you can learn about others through their eating habits that reveal their values, vision for the future, and potential viability as a romantic partner for you. Here are a few.
The Persistence of the Picky Eater
Picky eating has been tied to psychosocial issues. Although some childhood picky eaters grow into highly-tolerant, food-variety loving adults, some don’t.
Jordan M. Ellis et al. (in 2018) studied the extent to which childhood picky eating habits persist into adulthood. They note that adult picky eating (PE) is linked with elevated psychosocial impairment, as well as limited variety in diet, as well as intake of fruits and vegetables.
They sought to replicate the identification of a PE profile in children, which they described as manifest through food avoidance (slow eating, satiety responsiveness, slow eating) and "low food approach" (enjoyment and responsiveness) appetitive traits.
Their results depicted a picky eater profile that resembled the profile of the past child. Participants in the picky eater profile received higher scores on measures of adult PE as well as social eating anxiety, and scored higher on eating-related impairment and depression.
Compellingly, those participants were also more likely to be of normal weight.
Ellis et al. (ibid.) concluded that childhood PE and appetitive behaviors may extend into adulthood, which suggests that identifying meaningful groups of picky eaters can illuminate conditions where picky eating can be a risk factor for weight related issues, as well as psychosocial impairment or distress.
Pass the Personality
Can you discern more than dietary restrictions by what someone reaches for on the dinner table? Some research says yes.
Tamara M. Pfeiler and Boris Egloff (in 2020) investigated the extent to which food choices predict personality.
They began by recognizing that personality traits are linked with health-related behavior, such as eating habits.
Investigating eating habits and their relationship to the Big Five personality traits (as well as Body Mass Index [BMI]) they studied an Australian sample of 13,892 adults.
They found that three significant eating habits: carbohydrate-based food, meat (including poultry), and plant-based food and fish, showed distinct associations with personality and BMI.
Specifically, Pfeiler and Egloff found that consuming plant-based food and fish was positively linked with conscientiousness, openness, and emotional stability, consuming meat was negatively linked with openness and emotional stability but positively associated with extraversion, and consuming carbohydrates was negatively linked with conscientiousness, extraversion, and emotional stability.
Breaking the Ice Through Breaking Bread
Although obviously there will be variation, research suggests a link between personality and palate.
This appears to be yet another reason that when getting to know someone, personally or professionally, shared meals are revealing through both manners and menu selection.
The preceding article was originally published in Psychology Today, and is used with the permission of its author.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, Ph.D., is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of "Live with Dr. Wendy" on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patrick's Reports — More Here.
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