There’s no doubt that what you eat and how much you eat are critical factors when it comes to controlling your weight – but does who you eat with matter too? When you sit down to eat a meal, there are lots of influences that subtly impact how much you eat. Is one of those the company you keep while dining?
We Mirror the Eating Habits of Our Dining Companions
If you’re trying to control your weight, pick your dining partner carefully. Researchers in the Netherland found that college-age women that dined together mimicked each other’s dining habits. For example, when one took a bite of food, the other followed their lead. This is known as “behavioral mimicry.”
Behavioral mimicry is when one person unconsciously mimics the behavior of another. It’s a way of “bonding” with another person or a group of people and avoid engaging in behaviors that might seem inappropriate to others.
Behavioral mimicry could work in your favor if your dining companion is a super-slow eater who takes small bites and savors each one. On the other hand, it could be detrimental to your waistline if you dine with pals who wolf their food down and help themselves to more!
Research shows when women eat with other women, they adjust their food intake to mirror those of their dining companions. This is all happening at a level beyond your awareness.
Next time you’re in a restaurant, look around and you’ll see this in action. People really do take cues from each other on how fast to eat!
What Happens if You Have More Than One Dining Partner?
If you’re eating with a group of people, your risk for overeating is even higher. According to Brian Wansink, PhD, author of the book Mindless Eating, we eat more when the size of the group we’re eating with grows.
For example, he found that women who dine with one other person eat an average of 35% more. On the other hand, they eat up to 96% more when they dine in a group of seven or more. Pretty frightening, isn’t it? You definitely don’t want to eat in groups too often if you’re trying to control your weight.
There are a number of reasons why eating with a group encourages overeating. For one, it’s easy to lose track of how much food you’re eating when you’re busy socializing. Group meals usually last longer too, which gives you more time to refill your plate and nibble.
What about Dining Alone?
It would seem dining alone would be the best solution if you’re trying to control your weight, but there are pitfalls here too. When you eat alone, it’s easy to get sidetracked by distractions that take your mind off your meal. Research shows “distracted eating” or eating while you’re working on the computer, watching television or reading a book makes it easier to overeat. It’s all too easy to lose track of how much food you’re munching on when you’re focused on something else.
The best way to avoid overeating is to concentrate on the sights, sounds and aroma of each bite you put into your mouth – and eat slowly. This is called mindful eating. Eating at a slow pace gives your appetite hormones a chance to signal your brain that you’re full. Zero in on each bite, savor it with all your senses and chew it slowly. This will help you be satisfied with less – and it’s better for digestion too.
The Bottom Line?
A variety of factors influence how much you eat, including who you’re dining with. If you’re eating with friends or in a group, make a conscious effort to slow down and set your own pace rather than following the lead of your dining companions. Stop periodically to refocus on your food, and limit yourself to one carefully chosen plate of food if there’s a buffet line.
When you’re eating alone, practice the art of mindful eating – concentrating on the tastes, smells and texture of the food you’re eating rather than distractions like the latest novel or working on the computer. It’s better for your waistline.
PLOS One “Mimicry of Food Intake: The Dynamic Interplay between Eating Companions”
Brian Wansink, PhD. (2006) Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. Bantam Publishing.
Physiology & Behavior. Volume 88, Issues 4-5, 30 July 2006, Pages 498-505.