Eating is a subject related to all the human population, and social behavior affects greatly the way in which people eat and behave in society. Eating behavior is social, while eating disorder is medical; therefore research in both fields is quite different. When researching for information about eating behavior the two most predominant themes are eating disorders and eating behavior per se. Other information found is related to topics associated to eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, binge eating and body image. Most of the information written about eating belongs to journals, which are quite recent. Eating behavior is an up-to-date subject which has new information every year. Most of the research is related to adulthood, when eating disorders and eating habits are easier to measure because of the stability of the diet. Most of the studies focus on women, since they are more likely to develop eating disorders or to follow strict diets. The great amount of information related with eating disorders and the way in which most studies are carried out over women and adults shows the importance attributed to eating disorders, which contrasts with the modest interest shown on the eating behavior among healthy people and cross-culturally. Eating disorder is the exception not the rule, while eating behavior is a more familiar topic and it is related to a greater number of people. A research carried out on eating behavior could be applied to a greater number of people and it would be relevant to eating disorders too, since in order to know what a disorder is, it is necessary to compare it to the normal eating behavior.
Despite the fact that eating behavior is a less popular topic than eating disorders, there is a lot of information and research about it. Most of the research is quite recent, and it seems its popularity has increased slightly in the past two years. Generally there is more research done on females than in males. Females tend to give more importance to eating behavior and diet. However, when talking about eating social behavior male habits are as important as women ones. Men tend to give less importance to what they eat in relation to their weight (Papies, E.), but they give importance to the social norms when eating alone or in society. Most research has been done in adults, but adolescence and childhood eating behavior is important too in order to understand the social norms when eating (Leone,T.). Eating social behavior is based on norms that are learned in childhood and that shape the future eating behavior (Lessard et al).When eating socially people tend to follow the norms strictly, but always based on the culture and the norms learned by each person in childhood. The use of cutlery when eating or the importance of not chewing with the mouth full, are some of the social norms practiced.
Social situations affect eating behavior greatly. This can also be due to other social aspects apart from guilt and giving a good impression to others, but also due to anxiety and social rejection. Stereotypes influence greatly the level on anxiety and of eating social behavior. For instance the ideal women stereotype is to be thin, and therefore to eat little amount of food. Tin an experiment carried out by Michael Inzlicht and Sonia K. Kang in 2010 the eating behavior of women. “We hypothesized that coping with stereotype threat “naturally” would leave women with fewer resources to control their intake of ice cream compared with women armed with a resource-saving coping strategy”( Inzlicht, K. Kang, 2010, 473). The stereotype can cause anxiety, and therefore induce a more food intake per meal and a higher guilt feeling. “The experience of stereotype threat resulted in highly stigma conscious women eating significantly more ice cream than did women who coped with threat by reappraising their thoughts and emotions. All participants took the same diagnostic test; the only difference was that some participants were left to their own devices to cope with the stress of stereotype confirmation and others were encouraged to cope through resource-saving reappraisal techniques. This suggests that it is coping with negative stereotypes, and not the stereotypes themselves, that can result in a lingering spillover effect, in this case, overeating” (Inzlicht, K. Kang, 2010, 473). It seems that negative stereotypes produce more anxiety, and anxiety therefore produces more food intake. Therefore eating in society usually tends to increase the amount of eating.
It is really hard to predict the human eating behavior. There are, nonetheless, common patterns to all of us, for instance the amount of food intake and the guilt that comes along with excessive eating. There is a lot of anxiety when eating in society. Some reasons for this anxiety are a negative stereotype and the impression given to others. People therefore tend to eat more amount of food in society since the guilty feeling of eating excessively is relieved and there is an anxiety towards the view of others which makes more probable to eat more.
Amiraian, Dana; Jeffrey Sobal. Dating and eating. Beliefs about dating foods among university students.
Leone, Tullia; Patricia Pliner, C. Peter Herman. Influence of clear versus ambiguous normative information on food intake. University of Toronto, Toronto: 2006
Michael Inzlicht and Sonia K. Kang. Stereotype Threat Spillover: How Coping With Threats to Social Identity. Affects Aggression, Eating, Decision Making, and Attention. University of Toronto Scarborough: 2010
Papies, Esther, Petra Hamstra. Goal priming and eating behavior: Enhancing self-regulation by environmental cues. Utrecht University: 2010