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Women are not only passionate about food-they actually prefer food to passion. That's one of the startling responses we received to a recent lhj.com survey on dining and dieting. The women in our poll also confessed that they love eating so much that they think about it almost all the time. Yet, for all their gourmandizing tendencies, they're honest about how much they weigh, and if they absolutely had to choose, they'd rather be richer than thinner. Here's what else they had to say:All that junk
In our fast-food nation, it's very hard not to resist temptation, but most of those polled do try to maintain some sort of balance. Forty-two percent say that unhealthy foods make up between 10 to 25 percent of their daily diet; 26 percent say their menus are less than 10 percent junk. The bad news: Twenty-two percent say junk makes up a quarter to one half of their meals, and 9 percent admit to filling up on empty calories 50 to 75 percent of the time.Fear of fat
Though we may not like to admit it, we still harbor personal biases against obese people. Asked what would be their reaction to seeing a very overweight woman, 43 percent hope they never get that fat themselves. Another 19 percent would wonder how she could "let herself go like that," and 17 percent would assume the obesity was a medical problem. On the other hand, 21 percent say they would know exactly how the heavy woman felt.Decisions, decisions
Food may be a source of joy, but it doesn't beat a little extra in the bank account. Given the choice, 64 percent of women would rather win $1,000 than lose 10 pounds. When asked whether they'd rather have a great restaurant meal or great sex, 56 percent would go gourmet and 44 percent would hit the sheets.Big fat liar
True, it's a touchy subject, but the majority (53 percent) of respondents say they never lie about their weight! A less honest 31 percent admit to fudging all the time. Nine percent confess they shave off pounds when they're among friends who are thinner than they are.Food = bliss
Nearly two thirds of those polled -- 73 percent -- consider food to be one of life's greatest pleasures. The rest say food is nothing but sustenance.
Most of those polled come from families with a "clean-plate club" mentality; 39 percent say their mothers urged them to eat for the sake of starving children overseas, and 29 percent were made to polish off every bite of dinner before they could have dessert. Just 13 percent of respondents say their families stressed healthy eating.
Yet despite this childhood emphasis on full portions, many women are extremely self-conscious about what they put in their mouths. Although 54 percent say they don't watch what they eat when they're around other people, 38 percent do for fear of developing a reputation as a glutton. Nine percent of those polled will skip dessert for appearance's sake.
When they eat more than they think they should, 35 percent give themselves grief for having no self-control, 31 percent vow to make up for it the next day and 14 percent come right out and say, "I hate myself." One fifth of women feel good about splurging.Size matters
What's the best size for a woman? Respondents don't idealize the thinnest of the thin; only 3 percent say size 2 is their idea of perfection. Size 10 is the choice of 25 percent, with sizes 8, 12 and 6 following close behind. However, few of the women polled actually live up to their own ideals; the majority -- 41 percent -- wear size 16 or larger, and another 15 percent are size 14.
Dieting is one route to looking thinner, but having flattering clothes doesn't hurt, either. Sixteen percent of women polled own a dress that makes them look 10 pounds thinner, and 15 percent have minimizer underwear to help disguise bulges. Forty percent are holding on to at least one pair of pants too small for them-presumably in the hope that they'll be able to wear them again a few less pounds from now. But sometimes comfort matters more; 29 percent say they own a forgiving pair of pants to wear on their "fat days."I can't believe I ate the whole thing
Sometimes junk-food consumption is more than a mere nibble for those polled. More than a third (34 percent) confess to having polished off a jumbo tub of buttered popcorn in one sitting. Another 30 percent say they've downed a whole pint of ice cream. Nineteen percent have scarfed down a bag of chips at one time, and 16 percent have left only crumbs in a box of cookies. But it's harder to pig out on peanut butter; a mere -- but still astounding -- 1 percent say they've managed to eat an entire jar.Taking it off
Weight loss is a major concern for the women in our poll. Half of them say they need to lose more than 20 pounds. Nearly three quarters of respondents have been on diets at some point, with 22 percent dieting up to six months a year, another 24 percent devoting one or two months a year to weight loss and 13 percent cutting calories two or three weeks a year. Twelve percent never stop trying to slim down.
However, despite the vast variety of diet books touting low-carb or meatless eating, most women prefer the tried-and-true methods. Twenty-seven percent of those polled have gone on calorie-restricted diets, and 19 percent have tried a balanced food-pyramid regimen. Another 14 percent have tried liquid diets, and 13 percent have gone for high-protein menus.A delicious obsession
When asked how often they think about food, just under half of women (45 percent) say the thought occurs only at mealtimes. But another 44 percent say food is on their minds just about every waking minute, and 8 percent say they're so obsessed with eating that they even dream about it. --Shana Aborn