All of us eat to live, but what our eating styles are likely influenced by those around us… and perhaps more powerfully than we think. A new study finds that husbands and wives, especially, do start to eat like each other as time passes.
Early research has tracked the spread of obesity that comes as part of our social networks, so the team that worked on the current project wanted to see how much our food and drink choices rubbed off on our family and friends.
Now while you might have relationships with friends or a romantic partner based on having some things in common, eating like those we spend time with isn’t a case of like attracting like.
Based on the research, spouses tended to start eating alike later, rather than earlier, in the study. Maybe this is can be explained because one partner in the relationship generally does all the cooking and shopping, or maybe eating becomes a way to spend time together – such as enjoying local restaurants.
The team examined socioeconomic and demographic distribution of eating for 3,418 subjects taking part in the Framingham Heart Study who were observed between 1991 and 2001.
The subjects completed two or three food questionnaires that covered what they ate the week before. They also looked at associations among their spouses, siblings and close friends.
The study assigned each subject to one of seven non-overlapping eating patterns:
1. Meat eating soda drinkers took in more animal protein, sweetened drinks and other caffeinated beverages
2. Sweets eaters ate not only more sugar loaded products, but high fat dairy and refined grains
3. Alcohol and snack eaters took in disproportionate amounts of these items than their peers
4. Light eaters did so for all meals, and desserts
5. Caffeine avoiders drank decaf soda and coffee
6. Offsetting eaters ate plenty of snack and low fat sweets, but also lots of whole grains, healthy high fat foods like nuts, and nonfat milk
7. Healthier eaters who ate the most fruits and veggies, low fat chicken, fish and beans
Even after taking into account sociodemographic factors that might influence the way eating patterns spread (such as how far away people lived from each other), spouses showed the strongest similarities in eating patterns over time.
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What Your Eating Style Says About You And Your Friends… Continued…
Interesting as well that across all the relationships, the eating pattern most likely to be shared was the alcohol and snack pattern. This makes sense when you think about it… items in this group are easy to share and often call for less of a time commitment compared to full meals. For Americans, alcohol is culturally associated with being social.
Researcher Mark Pachucki, PhD says believes that the people we think of as meaningful in our lives tend to share a lot of the same eating behaviors with us.
The good news is that if those closest can be a bad influence, the opposite is also likely true. We can use these people to help us make better, healthier food choices.
So while eating is part of nearly every social engagement… weddings, church gatherings, a date or family party… and the holidays are all centered around food. Knowing the power those closest to us have over our eating styles will help you make better ones for yourself, and hopefully act as a healthy eating example to those you care about as well.