Disapproving Expression 639b3212765bb

Eating to Impress

Dec. 14, 2022
The less we know someone, the more we want them to admire our food choices, according to a new study.

On a couple of occasions, as I unloaded my groceries at the checkout, I’ve gotten compliments from people apparently impressed by the amount of fresh produce in my cart: “You eat pretty healthy, don’t you?”

Those remarks have stuck in my memory way longer than they should, which I took as another sign of my pathetic need for approval. But at least I’m not the only one who craves that kind of approval, if we can believe a study out of Northwestern University. According to NU’s researchers, impressing other people is a major motivation in making healthy food choices – especially other people you don’t know.

Some 200 college students were given a choice between M&Ms and raisins. When they were in the presence of someone they believed to be a student from their school, only 12% of them went for raisins. But in front of someone they thought was a student from another school, the percentage choosing raisins shot up to 31%.

Another group was given the choice of carrots or cookies. This time they were told that others around them were either “judgmental” or “tolerant.” The ones who thought they were being observed by judgmental people were more likely to go for the carrots.

The account I read didn’t suggest any practical implications for these findings. Maybe someone could start a weight-loss service called Jane’s Judgments, with scowling harridans waiting to disapprove of your food choices at a moment’s notice.

But if people want to lose weight or just generally improve the healthiness of their eating, they should learn that there’s only one person they really have to impress: Themselves.

About the Author

Pan Demetrakakes | Senior Editor

Pan has written about the food and beverage industry for more than 25 years. His areas of coverage have included formulations, processing, packaging, marketing and retailing. Pan worked for Food Processing Magazine for six years in the 1990s, where he was operations editor (his current role), touring dozens of food plants of every description. He has also worked for Packaging and Food & Beverage Packaging magazines, the latter as chief editor, during which he won three ASBPE awards. He is a graduate of Stanford University with a BA in communications.

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