Do you eat more when you are dining a deux?
Chances are you do, according to new research published in the journal PLoS One. People tend to take bites in sync with a dining partner, rather than eat at their own pace, according to the study.
Researchers from Radboud University Nijmegen of the Netherlands studied 70 pairs of young women eating together and recorded their chewing habits. What they found was that the women were likely to follow the lead of their dining companions. Both women were likely to take a bite at the time as their companion.
"In daily-life eating contexts, both eating companions could affect each other in terms of their eating behavior and that's what we have tested in the current study," said Roel Hermans, lead author of the study. " I think that it's important that people become aware of these factors."
As unhealthy eating habits run rampant, Hermans noted that it might be difficult to make healthy food choices and maintain a healthy diet when a diner is exposed to the poor eating habits of his or her companions.
"Mimicry of this kind likely has deep roots in anthropology, and perhaps even biology," said Dr. David Katz, director of Yale Univercity's Prevention Research Center. "If the young of a species don't mimic the dietary patterns of the adults, they risk ingesting poisons, or starving. In the bluntest terms- we learn what, when, and how to eat (by) watching others of our kind."
But Katz pointed out flaws in the rationale behind the study's results. "If two young women are having a meal together, they have a choice: talk, or chew," said Katz. "It may be that they synchronize chewing because at other times they were talking. I didn't see this issue addressed in the paper. So it may all come down to, 'don't talk with your mouth full.'"
Nevertheless, Katz recommended that people who are trying to lose weight tell family and friends and ask for their support.
"Better still, make the support reciprocal, and approach the challenge together," said Katz. "Once the issue is out in the open, it's hard for bad social influences to foment and much easier to start cultivating beneficial ones."
And in a world where childhood obesity is also a growing problem, Connie Diekman, who heads university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, said parents have the most power to influence their children's eating choices in the early school years.
"As a registered dietitian, I do discuss with my clients dining out, what they eat, who they eat with and if dining out is different than eating at home," said Diekman. "If a client sees a noticeable difference, beyond foods in restaurants, then we do discuss if others impact what they eat. Who we eat with, whether it is family, friends or colleagues does impact eating, but it is [only] one component."