A new study published in Appetite has suggested that the weight of the people with whom you usually eat might be indicating the size of your own appetite: researchers from Cornell University concluded from their findings that the body types of those in whose company you have your meals affect how much you allow yourself to eat. For instance, if you are eating in the presence of an overweight partner, it might lead you to opt for more unhealthy foods and less healthy ones. The theory that one will most probably not stick to one’s healthy diet plans when eating with or near an overweight person has thus been supported by these results.
For the study, 82 college students enlisted their participation to eat a spaghetti and salad lunch. Thereafter, an actress who wore a prosthesis that made her appear extremely fat (such that she looked overweight) was made to eat with them. Each participant was then randomly selected to either one of the following options:
- The actress serving herself with more healthy food (more salad and less pasta) while wearing the ‘fat-suit’.
- She served herself the same healthy food without the prosthesis.
- She served herself less salad and more pasta while wearing the suit.
- She served herself less salad without wearing the prosthesis.
The participants served themselves after they watched the actress serving herself.
The results showed that the participants served and ate 31.6 % more pasta when the actress had the fat-suit on, regardless of whether the latter served herself more pasta or not. When she had the suit on but served herself more salad, the others served and ate 43.5 % less salad.
The researchers concluded that people might actually serve themselves and eat more of unhealthy food and less of healthy ones when eating in the presence of an overweight person.
The authors suggested that this problem might be easily avoided: for example, one can plan one’s meal prior to going to the restaurant in terms of how hungry one is. If one makes such decisions in advance, one would be less likely to be influenced by those around.
The lead author, Mitsuru Shimizu, stated that: “This finding emphasizes the importance of pre-committing to meal choices before entering the restaurant. If you go into the restaurant knowing what you will order you’re less likely to be negatively influenced by all of the things that nudge you to eat more.”