My dinner with Andre the Giant: You are who you eat with
You are more likely overeat junk food if you have dinner with an obese person, a study published in the journal Appetite says. According to the article, college students were more likely to eat more unhealthy food and less healthy food when another diner was donning an overweight prosthesis – not the same as this. The authors of the study said that the mere fact of eating with someone else can cause people to eat up to 44% more than they would if they were eating alone.
In the study, 82 Cornell University students were divided in two groups; the members of both groups served themselves food in the presence of a woman who was either wearing a prosthetic suit or not. Moreover, students saw the woman either serve herself less pasta and more salad or the other way around. In all instances, the students always selected their meal after the woman did. In the end, the participants who dined with the ‘fat’ woman served themselves 31% more pasta regardless of the choices the woman made. In addition, the students served themselves 43% less salad when the woman donned the prosthesis – even if she served herself more salad.
Perhaps the students were in their salad days/when they were green in judgment. Or maybe, the presence of the obese diner “deactivated” the participants' unconscious goal to eat healthier, says study co-author and assistant professor of psychology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Mitsuru Shimizu, prompting them to not only eat “a larger amount of unhealthy food, but they ate a smaller amount of healthy food.” food psychologist and director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab Brian Wansink, who in addition to working in this study has authored the book Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, told Reuters that “while we often have good intentions before we go to a restaurant (I'm going to get the side salad instead of fries), when we arrive, a lot of cues can prime us to want to indulge. These include, the smells, what our companion eats, and now perhaps even the weight of our companion.”
The study was limited by the fact that fewer than 3% of the students were overweight themselves. Since according to the CDC 34.9% of Americans are obese, the results of the study might not have a very broad application. Nevertheless, “the study is generally well-conducted,” Brent McFerran of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia said. McFerran studies how others’ behavior affects consumer choices. He recommends people to “order or serve him/herself first” to avoid being influenced by someone else setting “a social norm about what is a ‘good’ or ‘normal’ amount to take.” Shimizu and Wansink also say that the solution is not to shun overweight people but to be aware that the choices of others have a potential to sway your own. “Commit to what and how much you want to eat before you get to the restaurant,” Wansink says. “Really commit to it.”