Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mars and Venus Dining Out

Don't Pressure Her to Order the Molten Chocolate Love Cake 

This week of Valentine’s Day dinner dates seems like a good time to address the dining differences between the sexes. She’s on a diet; he wants a big steak is a stereotype of course so researcher Dr. Gayle Timmerman of the University of Texas at Austin put restaurant eating behaviors to the test. In a survey of 146 male and female adults she set out to identify sex differences in the strategies used and barriers encountered when attempting to dine out healthfully in restaurant settings. Turns out there is more compatibility than conflict at the table –good news for couples sharing a romantic meal and discussing the menu any time of year. As reported in the medical journal - Preventing Chronic Disease - Timmerman discovered the top strategies for managing weight for both women and men included saying “no’ to sugary drinks and ‘yes’ to steamed vegetables and whole grain options. Both men and women were good listeners paying attention to hunger cues to stop eating when they felt full. Meanwhile, both sexes included rarely asking the chef to make something special that was lighter in fat and calories. Where is Meg Ryan when you need her?

Dining Differences

OK guys don’t be surprised if your date asks for part of her meal to-go and think of the money you’ll save if she just wants an appetizer for dinner Compared with men, Timmerman found that women more frequently shared appetizers, substituted an appetizer for a meal, ate a salad for the main course, ordered salad dressing on the side, had half of the meal packaged to go, and shared a meal with a dining partner. More women choose mustard over mayo and order foods grilled, broiled or poached.

But, you might have to help her tell the server to remove the bread basket. Turns out men in the study didn’t perceive that as a barrier. And don’t pressure her to order the molten chocolate love cake for dessert. Women reported that eating when not hungry to please other people was an “overwhelming barrier.”

Shared Challenges

While there are plenty of healthy options on many menus today, research shows that the more we eat out the more we weigh. Forty percent of Americans dine away from home at least three times per week. Several factors driving what we order and how much we consume when dining out include taste, portion size, emotional needs, perceived value, and social interaction. All of these things can lead to over consumption for both men and women including a busy lifestyle, being overly hungry when eating out and not wanting to waste big portions. That’s why Timmerman and other behavioral scientists watch what we eat to help tailor effective weight management advice that’s personalized to fit men, women, children and a diversity of lifestyles, food preferences and settings.

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” Email her at

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