Reservations for eight? You might eat 96% more! No kidding. We tend to continue eating for a longer period of time when we’re with people compared to when we eat alone. Maybe it’s because we mindlessly nibble while someone else talks, or the good manners we learned in fifth grade, or because we’re just having fun and enjoying great food. We do tend to stay at the table longer when we’re with others and the longer you stay at the table, the more you eat.
Friends and family also influence how much you eat. Sometimes you can get so involved in conversation that all the monitoring of what pops into your mouth goes out the window. Have you ever looked down at your plate and wondered where all the cookies went or how you managed to work your way through the mile high dish of pasta or the four pieces of pizza? How many tastes did you take of everyone else’s meal and dessert? Those tastes aren’t like invisible ink. Those calories count, too.
Who Sets the Pace?
You tend to mimic your table companions. They eat fast, you eat fast. They eat a lot, you eat a lot. Ever wonder why you look at some families or couples and they’re both either heavy or slender? As Brian Wansink, PhD says in his book, Mindless Eating, “birds of a feather eat together.”
How Much More?
Wansink reports on a study that shows how strong the tendency is to increase how much you eat when you eat with others. Compared to eating alone, you eat, on average:
- 35% more if you eat with one other person
- 75% more with four at the table
- 96% more with a group of seven or more
The pattern of eating more when we’re in larger groups than when we’re eating alone is common in adults. One reason is a phenomenon called “social facilitation,” or the actions that stem from the stimuli coming from the sight and sound of other people doing the same that that you’re doing. When you’re eating in groups, social facilitation can help override the brain’s normal signals of satiety.
Some Helpful Tips:
- Think about who you are eating with – and why. If you want to have a blast and don’t care about how much you eat – eat with a big group and chow down.
- If you want to be careful about what and how much you eat, think about eating lunch with your salad (dressing on the side, please) friends rather than the pepperoni pizza group.
- You tend to adjust your eating pace to that of your companions. So, sit next to the slow eaters rather than the gobblers if you’re trying to control how much goes into your mouth.