'People Pleasers' Feel Pressured to Snack

People who eat to comfort others usually regret it, study finds.

ByABC News
January 31, 2012, 3:54 PM

Feb. 1, 2012— -- People who eat to please others are likely to regret it later -- a dietary dilemma that could affect many Americans this Super Bowl Sunday.

People pleasers feel pressured to eat to comfort others around them who are indulging themselves, but a new study suggests the social snacking may not be worth it.

"If you sense that another person wants you to eat, you'll be more likely to eat more," said Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University and lead author of the study published today in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. "If we look back later and feel like we've given into social pressure, we often regret those choices."

People tend to eat more in groups, Exline said. But some people eat even more to avoid "rocking the boat."

"It's not a big deal if grandma cooks you a big dinner once a year. But if you live with grandma, it could be a problem," Exline said.

Previous studies suggest people seem less sociable when they forego food, Exline said.

"Sometimes it makes sense to go along with the groove -- you don't want to hurt grandma's feelings," she said. "The trick is to be thoughtful about choices rather than going on autopilot."

Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, said the social pressure to eat is contributing to the obesity epidemic.

"There's no question the way we eat is influenced by others," he said. "It's compounded around holidays and big events, but it plays out in lesser ways every day as we interact with our families and people in our workplaces. It's not just Super Bowl Sunday."

Katz said people should feel empowered to skip snacks and put their own health first.

"It would be perfectly OK to turn peer pressure the other way around and say, 'Don't try to tempt me. I'll keep an eye on you if you keep an eye on me,'" said Katz. "Peer pressure could become a very powerful force for good."

But it's OK to indulge on Super Bowl Sunday, Katz said, as long as healthy choices prevail the rest of the year.

"If you eat healthy most of the time, it's OK to relax and have fun Super Bowl Sunday," he said.

So when Sunday comes and the Super Bowl spread is out, don't feel bad passing on that second slice of pizza.

"Ask yourself, 'Am I hungry? Do I even want this? Am I going to enjoy this or am I just doing this because everyone else is?'" Exline said.