"How can I eat less?" many people ask. A newly published study (from a collaboration between researchers at Duke University, the University of British Columbia and Arizona State University) suggests that overweight people who eat with fat friends actually eat less than when they eat with slimmer friends. The study entitled: “I’ll have what she is having” suggests that people unconsciously change the quantity of food they consume depending on the size of the people they’re dining with.
The Nature of the Study
The theory was tested by one of the academics (a woman who weighed 8 stone, or 112 pounds) who met up with 200 university students (one at a time) at a cinema screening. Each time she chose either a small or a large snack, and the students were offered the same choice. However, with some of the students she wore a fat suit, making her appear 5 stone heavier.
While the subjects of the study seemed to select the same portion size regardless of whether they were with an overweight or healthy weight person, the amount they actually consumed was different.
Results Showed that Fat Friends Help People Eat Less
The results of the study showed that if a thin person ordered a large serving the other person would too, and would tend to eat the entire portion. However, if a fat person ordered a large portion and the other person also did, that person would be less likely to eat the whole serving.
None of the volunteers knew about the nature of the study, as they were actually told that the research was to do with their taste in films. Because of this, there was no motivation to modify their eating behavior, suggesting all choices were unconscious decisions that people make naturally.
Should Overweight People Dump Their Thin Friends?
The researchers say that people may not be aware of the dangers of eating with thinner people, especially when they are trying to lose weight. One of the lead authors of the study, Brent McFerran, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of British Columbia said, “Most participants took a portion similar to what the researcher served herself. However, it is clear that … how much they ate, depended on whether their companion was thin or obese.”
Professor of Marketing and Psychology at Duke University, North Carolina, Gavan Fitzsimons added: “If a heavy-set colleague eats a lot, you are likely to adjust your behavior and eat less. But a thin friend who eats a lot may lead you to eat more than you normally would.”
Does this mean you should forget your thin friends and only hang out with those who are overweight? Well, no, not exactly. It does suggest, however, that you should be aware of the tendency to eat more when dining with thin people who do eat a lot. Try to plan ahead, if necessary, so you are not too hungry when you head out – fill up with some fruit and a drink of water before your meal.