Autumn 2007 / Leading Edge
What You Eat Says about You

People who eat “good” foods are perceived as more trustworthy, study finds


As if your hairstyle, clothes and car weren’t enough, you are also being judged by how and what you eat, according to a paper in the scientific journal Appetite.

The paper, co-written by former U of T grad student Lenny Vartanian and University of Toronto professors Peter Herman and Janet Polivy, is a review of studies that focus on consumption stereotypes. In one study, conducted several years ago, Vartanian, Herman and Polivy screened a video of a young woman eating a lot of food and very little food. They then asked participants to ascribe attributes to the woman. The woman, when seen eating a lot, was described as heavier than when she was seen eating very little.

Other studies also demonstrated that we load food choices with moral connotations. For example, those who eat “good” (i.e., non-fattening) foods are perceived as more tolerant, monogamous, trustworthy and – regardless of gender – more feminine than those who eat “bad” foods. “It shows how judgmental and food-obsessed we are,” says Polivy, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at 
U of T Mississauga. “If [a woman] eats a hamburger, she’s a lesser person than if she eats a salad.”

Polivy says both men and women utilize these stereotypes in certain situations, such as consuming less in the presence of the opposite sex. “If you’re out on a date with a guy,” she says, “you ask yourself whether you should order spaghetti or salad. When women want to convey thin, fashionable and healthy, they order accordingly.”


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