It can be difficult for consumers to avoid larger, heavier meals when frequently out with their loved ones, and a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Birmingham found that there could be some science behind why that’s the case.
The study revealed that consumers eat more when around friends or family because communities tend to place more of an emphasis on the joys of sharing food. However, that notion gets flipped when consumers dine alone.
“We found strong evidence that people eat more food when dining with friends and family than when alone. However, this social facilitation effect on eating was not observed across studies which had looked at food intake amongst people who were not well acquainted.” explained researcher Dr. Helen Ruddock.
“People want to convey positive impressions to strangers. Selecting small portions may provide a means of doing so and this may be why the social facilitation of eating is less pronounced amongst groups of strangers.”
Understanding eating habits
The researchers analyzed over 40 previous studies, all of which analyzed consumers’ eating habits and how they differ around different groups of people or when eating alone.
“Findings from previous research suggest that we often choose what (and how much) to eat based on the type of impression that we want to convey about ourselves,” Dr. Ruddock. “Evidence suggests that this may be particularly pronounced for women eating with men they wish to impress and for people with obesity who wish to avoid being judged for overeating.”
This most recent study proved both of those findings accurate, as the researchers found that women with obesity ate nearly 30 percent more when in the comfort of friends or family. The findings showed that consumers were also less likely to feel shame for eating more than they normally would when by themselves. Overall, the researchers discovered that being around loved ones led consumers to eat nearly 50 percent more than those who ate alone.
Fighting unhealthy food cravings will only get harder as the holiday season approaches, but researchers have found that there are tangible ways for consumers to beat those urges.
The effects of cutting out unhealthy food are significant. Researchers recommend that consumers shouldn’t try to reduce portion size; instead they recommend reducing the amount of fattening foods in their diets.
“Not everyone has time for a high-intensity weight loss treatment,” said researcher Michele Lanpher Patel. “So it’s important to create alternative strategies that can accommodate these people. Digital health approaches have to fill this need.”