We're Eating More, and Enjoying It Less

By Candy Sagon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

If it seems to you that eating isn't quite as enjoyable as it used to be, you're not alone.

According to a new Pew Research Center survey, only 39 percent of Americans say they greatly enjoy eating -- a drop from the 48 percent who felt that way in a Gallup survey in 1989.

Enjoyment of food has particularly dropped among those who consider themselves overweight -- from 56 percent in 1989 to 42 percent this year -- according to the telephone survey of 2,250 adults. Among those who consider their weight "about right," 44 percent said in 1989 that they greatly enjoyed eating, while only 38 percent feel that way now.

And the reason we're eating more but enjoying it less? In a word: guilt, says Thomas Wadden, director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine.

"People are feeling guilty" about what they eat, says Wadden. "Two-thirds of women report they're dieting. One-third of men say they want to lose weight. They're forever checking their conscience before digging into that ice cream sundae."

It's also a matter of having food available all the time, he adds. "People are eating continuously now. Food has become a recreational pastime. It's lost its ability to mark a special occasion."

Ironically, given the decline in eating enjoyment, Americans report they're enjoying cooking more, with the biggest increase among men who cook.

In 1989, 25 percent of men told the Gallup poll that they enjoy cooking; in the Pew survey, that number had jumped to 32 percent. Among women, however, enjoyment of cooking has decreased from 39 percent in 1989 to 35 percent today.

We're also having problems with portion control, the survey revealed. Nearly 60 percent of Americans say they find themselves eating more than they should either often or sometimes, and 55 percent say they eat more junk food than they should.

The biggest reason Americans say they eat so much junk food is not because they like it (44 percent found that reason enough), or because it's cheap (24 percent), or even because it's heavily advertised (37 percent), but because it's convenient (73 percent).

That doesn't surprise Wadden. "I think in that sense, food has taken on a utilitarian purpose instead of being something enjoyable. People think, 'I need to eat. This is easy.' It fits their way of life."

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