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What You Can Tell About Someone by How They Eat

Picky eating, carb loading, and clues to personality.

Key points

  • Eating habits may reveal values, vision, and potential viability as a romantic partner.
  • Picky eating has been tied to psychosocial issues.
  • Personality traits are linked with eating habits.
Pexels / Pixabay
Source: Pexels / Pixabay

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[i], to Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon ordering a cinnamon-raisin bagel with lox, red onions, capers, tomato, and cream cheese,[ii] which Twitter critics described as “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. And although some childhood picky eaters grow into highly-tolerant, food-variety-loving adults, some don’t.

Jordan M. Ellis et al. (2018)[iii] 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, and 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) 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. Interestingly, those participants were also more likely to be of normal weight. Ellis et al. 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 at the dinner table? Some research says yes.

Tamara M. Pfeiler and Boris Egloff (2020) investigated the extent to which food choices predict personality.[iv] They begin by recognizing that personality traits are linked with health-related behavior, such as eating habits. But how? Investigating eating habits and their relationship to the Big Five personality traits (as well as Body Mass Index) they studied an Australian sample of 13,892 adults. They found that three significant eating habits: the consumption of 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. So, when getting to know someone, personally or professionally, shared meals may be revealing through both manners and menu selection.

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[iii] Ellis, Jordan M., Hana F. Zickgraf, Amy T. Galloway, Jamal H. Essayli, and Matthew C. Whited. 2018. “A Functional Description of Adult Picky Eating Using Latent Profile Analysis.” The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 15 (November). doi:10.1186/s12966-018-0743-8.

[iv] Pfeiler, Tamara M., and Boris Egloff. 2020. “Personality and Eating Habits Revisited: Associations between the Big Five, Food Choices, and Body Mass Index in a Representative Australian Sample.” Appetite 149 (June). doi:10.1016/j.appet.2020.104607.

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