You are what you eat--are you also HOW you eat?
January 9, 2012 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Anecdata search: Do men eat differently than women do? (I'm not talking about WHAT they eat, but about HOW they eat.)

This is probably a stupid question, but I now have a bee in my bonnet about it.

I had dinner the other day with a male friend and noticed that he ate all the french fries on his plate before turning his attention to his hamburger. I've eaten many lunches with him, and this pattern seems common--he'll eat up all of one thing before beginning another.

My husband does the exact same thing. I've seen him do the french fry/burger thing many times. Even if a salad is served with a meal, he will eat all the salad first before starting on whatever the main dish is. He doesn't have a food-shouldn't touch phobia (e.g., he will eat stir-fry over rice rather than eating the rice separately) but if the food is in distinct "blocks," he will almost always finish one block before moving on to the next.

I don't do this. I like to alternate bites of different things and balance out my blocks so that they all last throughout the meal. As I think about meals with my female friends, I seem to remember them eating this way also.

I googled, and nothing. (A whole lot about men's food choices as opposed to women's--e.g., men eat more meat, women eat more veggies--but nothing on how the choices are eaten.)

So, hive mind: Is this a gendered thing, for some reason, or do I just have a very small sample size of very quirky male friends? If it is, why might that be? What are you, and how do you eat?
posted by dlugoczaj to Food & Drink (51 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think you can ascribe this to gender at all.

I've seen male friends both eat one item before going on to the next on the plate, and I've seen male friends load several different items onto their fork before raising to their mouths. I myself am in the eat-all-one-thing-then-go-on-to-the-next camp, and I'm female.
posted by LN at 11:11 AM on January 9, 2012 [9 favorites]

Not gendered. I - male - if anything try to eat all my food at equal rates; I've seen women do the thing you've described men doing.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:12 AM on January 9, 2012

I, too, know several people who eat like this, but they are of mixed gender. I don't think this is a gender-related thing.
posted by brainmouse at 11:14 AM on January 9, 2012

i've seen both behaviors from both genders.
posted by nadawi at 11:14 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

The only connection I have ever seen between people who eat all X first and then Y and then Z is a history with those separated food trays we all got in elementary school.
posted by elizardbits at 11:15 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I always eat my food in stages if it's on the plate separately, sadly always my favourite part first and least favourite last, not a person who can't have food touching either (oh and I'm female).
posted by ellieBOA at 11:15 AM on January 9, 2012

Definitely not gendered. I'm a woman and usually eat all my fries first -- I can't think of a reason this would even be a gendered thing.
posted by sweetkid at 11:16 AM on January 9, 2012

I think it's personality rather than gender. That said, I eat all my food at equal rates and am female. But unlike ellieBOA, I save my favourite thing for the last bite. And sometimes it kills me when I run out of room before finishing it. But it's worth it to have the last bite be of my favourite thing. :-)
posted by guster4lovers at 11:16 AM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

Some people are serial eaters, others eat their foods in parallel. I haven't noticed any difference by gender.
posted by plastic_animals at 11:17 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am male and I do this. I do think you're looking at confirmation bias, but I will explain why I do this. I am especially prone to the one-at-a-time method at restaurants or while eating messy finger food. For something like a greasy burger, it's a lot easier to keep it in your hands and finish the whole thing, then clean yourself off and go after the fries or coleslaw. I tend to focus on the "primary" part of the plate at a restaurant (say, the steak) because I know I will almost certainly not finish everything they gave me so I'd rather get my money's worth. If I eat the whole steak but half the potatoes I feel more satisfied than all the potatoes and a few bites of steak.

Thinking about it further, I do recall having a discussion with my girlfriend that she will eat the fries first (in a burger-and-fry sort of meal) because the fries are tastiest when hot. She doesn't like cold and soggy fries.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:17 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a female and I do what you mentioned in the OP. I always pick my favourite bits of food on a plate and leave them for last.
posted by Trexsock at 11:20 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Of the three people at my table (me, wife, roommate), I tend to eat most of one thing and then the other, but leaving the final bite of each food type for last, and my roommate tends to dump all food into a bowl and eat everything as if it were a stew that I inexplicably put served in separate bits. I think my wife eats like I do, but I've never noticed for sure.

Obviously, it's a small data point, but we're both men and we eat very differently.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:21 AM on January 9, 2012

I am a woman (the last time I checked anyway) and I eat my veggies or side item first. This is a habit I adopted as a way to keep myself from filling up too much on the "main" item which is usually higher-calorie.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:21 AM on January 9, 2012

I don't think it's men vs. women, but I have found from my own experience that people who were raised with "clean your plate" mentality, were taught to eat everything regardless of whether they were hungry or not, or had picky food issues as children seem to be more apt to eat their food sequentially.
posted by juniperesque at 11:22 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

i'm female and i do this, in fact, my bf teases me for eating in sections a lot of the time.

in the case of french fries, it's mainly because french fries suck when they're cold, so i eat them while they're hot, then work on the burger.

in the cases of other foods, it's more the whole "perfect bite" thing, in most cases. i want to finish on something i love, so the taste lingers a bit. i also usually eat all the veggies on my plate first, because i rationalize that they're good for me, and the rest might not be as good for me, so i can leftover the rest and spread the not-so-goodness out over a couple meals.

this probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense or makes me sound a little unbalanced, possibly (wouldn't be the first time, certainly won't be the last), but to wrap up, personality based, not gender based.
posted by koroshiya at 11:23 AM on January 9, 2012

I am a polivorous man, but I know other men who are monivorous. I also know both polivorous and monivorous women. So I don't think this is a gendered thing.
posted by alms at 11:23 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Definitely not gendered. As for a good reason to do this with french fries is that they often get colder (and thus less appealing) faster than the accompanying burger.
posted by mmascolino at 11:26 AM on January 9, 2012

The only 'proof' I have that this isn't a gendered thing is that if you described that behavior, I would "definitely" said it was female based on my own (probably limited, not-paying-that-close attention observations. Which is probably why I've stopped making statements about groups of people using words like "definitely."

That's not to say that your male friends aren't quirky. But a benefit of hanging out with quirky people is that you are less likely to paint with broad brushstrokes when dealing with people.

I will now be paranoid that people are watching me eat for at least 5 days.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:27 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a woman and I eat everything in blocks: all of the green beans first, then all of the chicken, etc. If I like the way something tastes, why would I interrupt that with another flavor? When I am cooking for myself at home, this becomes even more pronounced because--if I am not in a rush--I tend to cook in stages. So first I make an artichoke (and only an artichoke) and eat that. Then I work on something else for a while until I decide it's time for chicken, and then I have some chicken, etc. The only foods I eat mixed are ones that are supposed to be mixed, like burritos or stir fry. I loved the separated food trays in elementary school, although they would have been even better if the dividers were even higher. If my mom had let me, I would have eaten on one of them all of the time.
posted by colfax at 11:31 AM on January 9, 2012

My husband and I are the exact opposite of your situation (and he noticed it before I did, which I suspect also violates a gender generalization...). I do wonder if juniperesque is on to something, though, as I was a picky eater as a child and my husband wasn't.
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:32 AM on January 9, 2012

Of course you eat the fries first, they're only good when they're hot.

Also, anytime you get a sandwich with a soup or salad you eat the soup or salad first. Why? Because if you switch back and forth you get sandwich grease all over your silverware.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:33 AM on January 9, 2012

I am male. I eat the way you describe. The main reason I eat that way, lately, is because I've been trying to learn to stop eating when I am full and then I save whatever food is left for later for re-heating. Typically fries do not re-heat very well so I always eat them first. Whatever the main item is usually re-heats OK or is at least good cold.
posted by dgeiser13 at 11:34 AM on January 9, 2012

My anecdata is in line with the thread consensus. My wife eats serially, I like to mix and match.
posted by yoink at 11:35 AM on January 9, 2012

I (male) will eat the salad first, but that's to get it out of the way because it's ona separate plate, usually. Beyond that, I do my damnedest to alternate. I sometimes go so far as to determine what would be the best "last bite" and change bite sizes so I can work out to that goal.
posted by notsnot at 11:38 AM on January 9, 2012

Of course you eat the fries first, they're only good when they're hot.
This right here is the correct answer~

For what it's worth, I don't like mixing food, which is why I tend to eat in a serial fashion (I'm female). My husband loves mixing food, he eats more parallel.
posted by ashirys at 11:41 AM on January 9, 2012

Female, and I do what your husband does. Bothers me for some irrational reason to hop between meal items, and that's not just because of my food touch issues. I just think things are meant to be eaten in order. Although I'll often eat the main before the side dish, depending on what the side is. Burger before fries, pizza before salad; but salad before fish.
posted by TravellingCari at 11:44 AM on January 9, 2012

Long ago and possibly mis-remembered, but I do seem to recall reading that NASA had done some work on people's preferences as to the order they ate things. No idea how you would google it though. Apparently some people eat all of one kind of food first, others don't. Which is pretty well what has come out of this discussion.
posted by Logophiliac at 11:48 AM on January 9, 2012

I've always considered this a male thing, because I've known many men who do it, but have never once in my life seen a woman do it. Obviously I'm in the minority.

And it drives me crazy. Components of a menu are chosen so that the flavors and textures add up to more than the sum of their parts, but these people are refusing to let them do their thing. It's like choosing the perfect wine to go with your meal but then waiting until you're done eating to drink it. It'll still be a good wine, but you will have totally missed the magic.
posted by HotToddy at 11:49 AM on January 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

I do this, and typically do the "burger first then fries" going by the "money's worth" reasoning above.

The reheating argument is compelling to me, however, so I may be switching methods. I'll probably still eat serially, however.

Leaven my comments, however, with the knowledge that I separate my candy by color and have a complex set of internal rules governing in what order those Skittles may be eaten.
posted by chazlarson at 11:51 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Female, and I eat all of one thing, then all of the next time. I actually have no idea why I do it that way, I think I just like the flavor of something so I eat it all at once, and then I like the flavor of the next thing, etc. I guess it makes no more or less sense than eating things round and round ... in fact I find that kind of bemusing, I'm not entirely sure why some people go to the trouble of eating one bite, then a different bite, then a different bite. But I guess they're wondering why I just keep at the one thing!

Sometimes I do eat strategically (if at a restaurant, salad doesn't go home well in a take-out box once it's been dressed, so I'll try to eat that all first), and when I have a big festive meal, I do alternate bites at the end of the meal when I'm sort-of picking at things.

Components of a menu are chosen so that the flavors and textures add up to more than the sum of their parts, but these people are refusing to let them do their thing.

Components of a DISH are like that. I don't really think alternating bites of my turkey and green beans is adding to my experience. In fact, it mostly just makes my palate muddy. Alternating bites of burger and fries makes my burger taste less meaty and my fries taste like nothing whatever. Perhaps not everyone has the same experience of tastes as you do?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:56 AM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm an oddball.. I guess. I don't eat all of one thing at once. I do something more like:

Eat half the burger
Eat half the fries
Eat quarter of a burger
Eat quarter of the fries
Finish the burger
Finish the fries.

But I'm also one of those foods-not-touching sorts of people, so it could be I'm weird anyways.

female FWIW.
posted by royalsong at 11:58 AM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am female identified and almost always eat serially (one item to completion, next item to completion, etc) and usually start with sides, especially when the side is a salad. I haven't paid particular attention to the eating habits of others, but I think most of the people I know (of all genders) are not serial eaters.

Your experience with it being gendered is just coincidence.
posted by radioaction at 12:03 PM on January 9, 2012

I'll do both, but it depends on what I'm eating. If I've got a plate with a bunch of stuff on it, I'll usually eat what I think is going to get cold first, or eat stuff that's already cold last, but that's not a standard thing and I'll sometimes just take bites of everything equally until I'm done. If I'm getting a burger from a fast-food joint, I'll usually eat the fries first, just so that I can finish them and get their carton out of the way before opening up the sandwich.
posted by LionIndex at 12:07 PM on January 9, 2012

My husband likes everything to balance out, he goes around the plate in circles, sometimes mixing certain bites. And if he runs out of something, he might take a little extra helping to make it all come out even.

I also go around the plate but I'm not so concerned about perfect ratios.

I used to date a guy who made all his meals into little sandwiches. It was very cute until it wasn't anymore (reader, I did NOT marry him).
posted by padraigin at 12:20 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm male. I will alternate between distinct items. If I like one of those items less, I will try to finish it sooner so the last few bites are of things I like. If one item would have a tendency to lose flavor or get cold faster, I'll try to finish it sooner.

In fact, I prefer meals with distinct, contrasting "blocks", as you put it, that play off each other. I mostly prefer stir-fry next to plain rice, because I can use the rice to clear my mouth of the stir-fry's saltiness and flavor, so that I can taste the next bite better. That's usually my rationale for alternating between foods evenly.
posted by WasabiFlux at 12:21 PM on January 9, 2012

I sort of do this (female).
With Chinese food you're supposed to eat the dishes with the rice. The rice cleans the palate so you're not overloaded on flavour. However, I eat all the meat then all the veggies and then rice last. For this, my parents are endlessly disappointed.
posted by captaincrouton at 12:25 PM on January 9, 2012

Don't forget peer group pressure. I (female) eat a bit of each, round and round, or sometimes the worst thing first, but my (male) partner always saves a bit of each item for the last mouthful. I never used to do that. I do now. Only when I'm eating with him.
posted by LyzzyBee at 1:14 PM on January 9, 2012

I know two women who eat their fries first.

I'm a woman, and I have to mix bites of everything. Fries, then burger, then pickle, then round and round until it's all gone. Pasta and curry dishes don't matter because they're more homogeneous. Meat, potatoes, and veg? A forkful of each in no particular order.
posted by vickyverky at 1:38 PM on January 9, 2012

Interesting. I (a woman) was taught that it was "correct" to rotate rather than finishing each item sequentially. No idea why that should be, but the early conditioning has prevented me from stuffing myself with bread, so at least it's had some benefit.
posted by martianna at 2:09 PM on January 9, 2012

Sort of on the subject (gender-related-wise, anyway). Heard this on the radio last fall. although could be potential for some gaps in the study...

Apparently, when your dinner companion is male, you're likely to eat less than when you dine with a female.
posted by foxhat10 at 2:14 PM on January 9, 2012

foxhat--that's funny, because I think it would work exactly the opposite for me. I'm more likely to eat more when I'm with men because I don't think they give a whoop about what other people eat. If I'm with women I know they're more likely to consider what other people are eating ("and shouldn't be") and I'm more likely to be self-conscious about it.

I'm fine with the fact that my confirmation bias isn't being satisfied, because this thread is just fun.

For what it's worth, I think my own motivation for being a polivore (love this, alms) is significantly based on HotToddy's explanation. I do know that I care far more about what "goes with" what in menu planning than my husband does (which is good, since I'm the menu planner in our house). At one point I remember him suggesting rice as a side dish for quiche, and I looked at him like he was out of his mind. I just couldn't see the need for another carb besides the quiche crust, or the rationale for eating anything with quiche rather than a green or fruit salad. That may matter less to him because he's going to eat everything separately anyway.
posted by dlugoczaj at 2:25 PM on January 9, 2012

I had dinner the other day with a male friend and noticed that he ate all the french fries on his plate before turning his attention to his hamburger.

Seconding: Cold burger tastes better than cold fries. Hence, eat the fries first before they get cold.

Other than burger/fries though, I (male) don't think I eat things in blocks like that for other meals. I usually eat a bit of everything as I go.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:32 PM on January 9, 2012

I try to eat exactly equal amounts of everything (assuming I like everything there), like equal bites of potato and meat on fork at same time. If I have leftover potatoes for example, I won't eat them with out their partner if the meat ran out.

I used to know a guy who would eat all of his fries first because he said that 'he wouldn't leave any of the burger but probably would leave some fries, so it's better to eat all fries first then all burger' to not waste anything. No real data/information, just peoples' eating habits (inc mine) are very individual and funny. (and we're lucky we can choose etc etc).
posted by bquarters at 2:43 PM on January 9, 2012

I'm male not only do I eat things in sequence, I will only eat certain things from its own bowl or plate. Corn or Salad must have its own bowl. I never thought about it before but it must be due to those lunch trays mentioned upthread.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:53 PM on January 9, 2012

I think I tend to alternate bites of things, though my partner has commented on seeing me finish one thing, then move to the next (I'm female). He tends to alternate bites, too, but he also likes to sometimes mix everything on his plate into one big mess, then eat that (which is just fine with me, since I think it's his way of making sure he eats the veg that he knows he should eat, but doesn't like all that much; if they're covered in gravy/pasta sauce/curry, the veg are more pleasant to eat).
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 2:55 PM on January 9, 2012

I'm a guy and I do this, and I know women who do this as well, so clearly, it's not an issue of gender.

I do have a predictable order that I eat things in. I suspect the issue isn't gender, but rather, it's OCD tendencies.

Patterns? I LOVE 'EM! :)
posted by 2oh1 at 3:13 PM on January 9, 2012

I tend to eat serially, and I didn't grow up with lunch trays.

it drives me crazy. Components of a menu are chosen so that the flavors and textures add up to more than the sum of their parts, but these people are refusing to let them do their thing

Couldn't disagree more. I might as well claim that people who eat everything all mixed up are refusing to let the components of what they're eating exhibit their pleasing contrasts. Seems to me that if I wanted a homogenized meal, I'd just have it in a bucket and be done with it.

Generally the last thing I eat will be the one that has the most pleasing after-taste.
posted by flabdablet at 7:37 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I often eat sequentially. I don't have an affinity for sectioned trays, was never a picky child, and enjoy cooking and eating amazing, well-composed meals. In short, I pretty much disagree with anyone's theories for why people might do this, except those people who are pointing out that they do this because food tastes good. I also save the best things for last.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:02 PM on January 9, 2012

FWIW the Naturally Slim program teaches you to eat just one food at a time, and that once you start the next item you can't go back to the first.

As for myself, I find I eat both ways about equally. I'm not even consistent with the same foods. Sometimes I'll eat burger then fries, others I'll do burger and fries.
posted by zinon at 9:24 PM on January 9, 2012

I am a woman, and eat sequentially if there's something on the plate I like less than the others. Like, if I'm having a burger and a salad, I dislike salad so will eat that first to get it out of the way :)
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:56 AM on January 10, 2012

I like to mix it all up but will generally try and save one piece of tomato or cucumber for the very very last bite.
posted by mary8nne at 3:14 AM on January 13, 2012

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