Who You Eat With Could Shape Your Eating Habits

the MPR take:

The appearance of your eating companion may influence your own eating behavior, reports a new study in the journal Appetite. Eighty-two undergraduate students were randomly assigned to a normal-weight eating companion condition (control) or the overweight companion condition (experimental). The experimental condition consisted of a normal-weight female fitted in an “overweight prosthesis” that made her appear to be overweight. The second factor was whether the female served herself a small amount of pasta and a large amount of salad (defined as healthy eating condition) or a large amount of pasta and a small amount of salad (unhealthy eating condition), with the female eating all food served. Regardless of whether the female in the experimental condition served herself a healthy or unhealthy eating condition, the students served and ate a significantly larger portion of unhealthy food when they saw the overweight eating companion vs. the normal-weight eating companion. When the female served herself a large amount of salad, the participants ate a smaller amount of salad when she was overweight, compared to when she was normal-weight. Participants served and ate larger portions of unhealthy food (and smaller portions of healthy food, in some instances) in the presence of an overweight companion. These results support the “lower health commitment” hypothesis, which states that individuals are more likely to eat unhealthy foods when in the presence of an overweight person because the health commitment goal is less activated. As obesity research is expanding, future research on the influence of eating companions and both quality and quantity of food intake could be helpful in the fight against obesity.

The purpose of this study was to examine whether or not the presence of an overweight eating companion influences healthy and unhealthy eating behavior, and to determine if the effect is moderated by how the companion serves herself.