You’ve probably experienced it before. You’re out to brunch with friends and you’re on a(nother) health kick so you start to order the egg white omelette and green juice, when your friend orders the ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter and all of a sudden you’re face first in your own plate of delicious, melting butter goodness.
Maybe you’ve shared an enormous bucket of popcorn at the flicks with your mum and kept your almonds in your handbag, or indulged in a pasta dinner followed by tiramisu with your lover on week one of Weight Watchers. All of these things are fine, necessary and part of life’s pleasures. But being influenced by what your dining partners are eating can wreak havoc on doing what’s right for your body at that time.
A study published in Appetite found that our dining companions have a lot of pull in what we consume – whether it’s aspirational, in the form of following their healthy eating regime, or allowing yourself to indulge with a friend because they are. It’s difficult to say no to cake when everybody else around you is eating it, and alternatively, it takes a strong-minded person to eat cake when everybody else is eating kale (hats off to them though).
Another study has also found that it’s not just what we eat that is influenced by our friends and family, but how much.
Researchers at the University of NSW have found that people will eat less food if their dining companion eats a small portion, while if they’re dining with a generous eater they might not match them but will feel like they can eat as much as they fancy.
Dr Lenny Vartanian and his team looked at nearly 40 studies, and found the impact of “social modelling” – mirroring an associate’s behaviour – on a person’s food intake is almost twice as powerful on a person’s consumption as portion control.
“I’m not downplaying the importance of portion size, but the magnitude of the effect found that [social modelling] is about twice the size of the effect you get from portion size,” Dr Vartanian told The Sydney Morning Herald of his study, published in the journal Social Influence.
Vartanian also told The Sydney Morning Herald that we don’t take enough notice of how our food intake is influenced by other people, especially considering, as the study found, that the desire to fit in will override hunger signals and likely, good intentions.
Understanding this might help to make choices that are right for you – and to stick to them.