Copy eating

The usual advice goes something to the effect; keep your friends close and your enemies closer. You might want to think that one a little bit, at least as far as your friends are concerned you might want to keep them at arms length when it comes to meal time particularly if they tend to pack it in when gathered about the trough. You see, new research has shown that women in particular tend to copy the eating habits of the people they eat with.

Eating is undeniably social but who would have thought it might be contagious: some researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands, that’s who.

These researchers gathered data on 140 females with an average age of 21 years who were split into 70 pairs. Each pair dined together in a “bar lab” which was a replica of the eating area in the bar at the university. In each pair one of the women was given instructions as to how to eat while the other was given no instructions.

The woman given instructions was told to follow one of the following options; order a small portion (and eat a small, medium, or large amount of it), order a medium portion (eat a small, medium, or large amount of it), or order a large portion (eat a small, medium, or large amount of it).

If a partner took a bite within five seconds of the other this was classed as mimicry. In all, 3888 bites were taken in the study. Instructed eaters had an average of 30 bites while non-instructed eaters had an average of 41 bites. The non-instructed woman was much more likely to take a bite within five seconds of her eating partner. Although there was some mimicking done by the instructed eaters, the non-instructed eaters were three times more likely to take a bite within five seconds.

Previous studies have shown that women do tend to consume more when their companion eats a lot and to eat less when their companion is more frugal at the fork. The results of this new study show that this is because women mimic the person they eat with. They adjust their eating pattern to match the person they are with.

It’s quite a nice, friendly thing to do really. It does sound a gong of warning though about who you dine with. Your friends could be making you fat.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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