That’s Men: Why do only women leave food on their plate?

When you’re the eldest in the family, you start off life in ‘eat all you want’ setting

If the food had been served on a larger plate there is also a good chance that she would have eaten more of it.

If the food had been served on a larger plate there is also a good chance that she would have eaten more of it.

 

Leaving food on the plate. Is that a female thing? At a lunch a few months I noticed that a lady at our table had been served a fillet steak.

Although I am partial to steak, I had not gone for that option because some irrational part of my mind thinks you can’t have steak at lunchtime.

I wished I had ignored my mind when I saw the succulence of the steak on her plate. So I was taken aback to see that after eating just over half of it, she put down her knife and fork, remarked what an excellent steak it was, and left it sitting there.

I had a strong desire to spear it with my fork and put it onto my plate. That is the sort of thing you can do at home, in a Homer Simpson sort of way, but not when you’re out in polite society.

It struck me that leaving perfectly good food on the plate is something I’ve only ever actually seen women doing. But how do they do it? It seems to go against every possible human instinct.

But maybe it doesn’t go against human instinct. From the point of view of evolutionary psychology – which is great because you can make things like this up – the female might be driven to leave food for the male who needs his strength to go out and hunt down another mammoth.

I also recall seeing an illustration from the time of the industrial revolution showing a man eating his dinner while his wife and children looked on.

In some quarters, it seems, wife and children ate after the man, presumably on the basis that he had been out toiling all day and needed to build himself up again.

Eat all you want

You may think this is all bull, though not the sort of bull you could get a good steak from, but this whole business of knowing when you’ve eaten enough and then stopping is something I’ve never got the hang of.

On his radio programme, Gay Byrne used to say that if you wanted to keep your weight right, all you ever had to do was to stop eating when you felt full.

It makes perfect sense, of course, but it has never appealed to me as a way to regulate my eating.

I wonder if this comes from being the eldest in a family? When you’re the eldest, you start off life in a sort of “eat all you want” setting.

Then the competition comes along and suddenly you have to look sharp about it if you want to get your quota. That doesn’t just mean finishing everything on your plate but finishing everything on the table.

In looking for rational explanations for all these things, I am probably barking up the wrong tree. So much of the eating we do is based on subconscious assessments and motivations that there is very little logic to how we approach the table and how much we put into our mouths when we get there.

Good vintage

For instance, if the lady at our table had been told that the wine she was served was a particularly good vintage from a small, high-quality vineyard in France, she would probably have eaten more of her steak than if she had been told the wine was a supermarket own-brand.

If the food had been served on a larger plate, there is also a good chance that she would have eaten more of it.

On the other hand, if a portion of food is described in the menu as double size, we will actually eat less of it than if it is described as regular.

Check out the “mindless eating” section of the Cornell University at foodpsychology.cornell.edu/ discoveries-mindless for more on this.

My problem, though, is not just finishing everything on the plate – it’s stopping myself from finishing everything that’s left in the saucepan as well.

Maybe it’s just because I’m a man. Look, I have to blame something.

pomorain@yahoo.com; @PadriagOMorain Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness for Worriers. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email.

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