If you go out to lunch with a skimpy eater, you’ll probably eat a small amount too – even if you are used to eating more, says a new study.
In this study, the authors analyzed 38 studies that looked at how much – or how little – diners’ eating habits affected their dining companions’ portions.
Studies like this can help increase our understanding of the many factors that influence how much people eat and can help you develop effective strategies to achieve a healthy weight. That’s important for cancer prevention because overweight and obesity increases risk for 10 cancers, including colorectal, postmenopausal breast and liver.
Overall the study authors found that how much your fellow diner eats does have a large influence on how much you eat. When your companion eats less food, there is a strong chance you are also likely to eat less than you normally would. The study found that the effect is not as strong when your fellow diner eats large portions. When your companion eats more, you tend to eat not much more than when you eat alone.
The study also included the effect of “companions” who were not physically present. For example, participants were given a meal or snack and told how much a previous participant had eaten. Diners adjusted how much they ate based on what they believed others had eaten just as much as when companions were present.
In children, the older the child, the more they were influenced by their dining companions. And women appear to be more influenced than men in these studies.
Portion size gets a lot of attention, so the authors compared their results to studies looking at how portion size influences your eating. They found that your dining companion’s influence is twice as strong as whether your served large or small portion sizes. Although direct comparisons are tricky, it does show it’s important for you to pay attention to how your friends, family and co-workers affect your eating.
Knowing that your dinner companions may influence how much you eat can help you focus on making choices that are healthiest for you. Paying attention to your portions and focusing on foods with fewer calories per bite, like vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes – whether eating alone or with someone else – is one way to consistently get the right amount of food for you.