One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. Fill up this table and what happens to your calorie count?
It likely goes way, way up.
Let me ask you this: “Have you ever been out to eat with a group of friends and found yourself eating more than you intended?”
If so, you are not imagining things, at least not according to Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating, who says.
Dine with one friend, you’ll eat about 35 percent more. With a group of seven, you’ll eat 96 percent more. If you’re trying to lose weight, eat alone or with the smallest group possible, and pace yourself with the lightest eater.
I can see where this could happen because I experienced it first hand, and I am wondering if you have too. The tendency to eat more when we are with a group does not just happen to overweight people. It can happen to anyone.
I remember being in college and going out to a restaurant with a group of girlfriends. After the meal, all of us leaned back and said that we could not believe how much we had managed to eat. When John and I went out to eat (before I gained all my weight), I know I ate more than I would have if I had been eating at home by myself.
Even after our marriage, if we went out with friends, I ate a larger volume of food than I normally would have. And don’t even get me started with buffet restaurant meals. Those were a disaster whether I went with John or a group.
The phenomena of eating more when we are with other people could happen for a few different reasons.
1. We eat from visual cues. We not only use packaging size and plate size as a reference point for deciding what to eat (and that gets us in trouble) but we also look around and visually see what other people are eating. That is one of the reasons that people in groups often eat more than they realize – they are feeding off of each other.
2. We fall prey to peer pressure. Food pushers lurk in every corner of my world, and they may lurk in your corner too. If you have one in your group of dining companions – watch out! You may order mozzarella sticks, Cobb salad, fried chicken, and a dessert before you know what happened!
3. We are not thinking. This is the one I still have to be mindful of. Even if I order the “best” meal on the menu, I still have to be mindful of how large the portion is, not to reach for the “free” bread or chips on the table, and to stop before I am full.
There are a lot more reasons that I could list why I think that we tend to eat more than we realize when dining with other people, but I’d like to hear what you think.
Has this ever happened to you and how do you stop it? Diane