New Study Finds People Eat More When Dining with Friends and Family

Trending News: How much you eat influenced by who you are with

Have you ever gone out dining with friends or family and noticed that you’re totally stuffed at the end of the night? Well, don’t beat yourself up about it because a recent study shows that people tend to eat more when eating socially.

It can be next to impossible to turn down dessert when all of your friends are having it, too. It’s called ‘social facilitation’. That’s a 5-dollar phrase that basically means that people perform better when others are present to witness and join in the task.

So, when you’re going crazy on that platter of nachos, you’re just trying to show that you can hang with the best of them. It’s like when you’re studying in the library with other people who are doing the same thing as you are. You might study better than when you’re at home all by yourself.

The interesting thing about this recent study is that researchers found that eating socially drastically increases the amount of food you eat. According to research, people tend to eat 48% more food when dining with other people as opposed to when they were eating alone. When you go out to a restaurant that means more calories, more salt, more fatty foods and more sugar.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham attribute this to an evolutionary pattern of behavior. Hunter/gatherer societies ate together for survival. Also, providing an abundance of food for others was linked to a higher social standing in those ancient groups. We’re not hunter/gatherers much anymore, but there is a leftover survival mechanism that fuels our social eating habits.

To find ways that people can eat healthy when eating out at restaurants or fast food eateries we spoke with a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. Hailey Crean suggested a 3-step process to counterbalance social facilitation.

According to Hailey Crean, you should start by –

1) Having a plan. If possible, take a look at the restaurant menu ahead of time online to get an idea of what they offer. Often restaurants will provide nutrition information on their websites as well which may help
guide your choice.

2) Consider your drink choice. A sugar-sweetened soda, coffee or tea can provide a lot of added sugar and calories with very limited nutritional value or feeling of fullness to your meal. Alcoholic drinks in moderation may fit into a healthy meal plan however studies show alcohol can increase food cravings and increase the likelihood of eating more or ordering something you otherwise wouldn't have.

3) Rethink the appetizer and dessert. It's tempting when offered to order the appetizer and why not opt for the dessert after, however with the average restaurant entree well-exceeding calorie and other nutrient needs for the meal, these add-ons only add fuel to the fire.

That’s sound advice when eating out with family and friends. Deciding what you plan to eat ahead of time is the ideal way to keep your diet from going off the rails. Also, sharing appetizers and desserts can help everyone limit their intake.

But what about when you’re traveling or eating while on vacation? On the one hand, holiday trips are meant for splurging. On the other hand, lack of good food options while in transit could lead you to eat more than you normally would alone.

We asked Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, MD of for healthy eating tips while traveling with your family and friends. “I would advise avoiding carbs and order food without any buns or extra bread. Also, dressings can be very questionable in terms of health and nutritional value, and that why I would advise avoiding eating it. Instead, I would recommend asking for olive oil or lemon for the taste. As for fast food restaurants: even McDonalds has some salads (avoid dressing), and hamburgers can always be eaten without a bun.”

Of course, there are many different reasons why you might be compelled to eat more when you’re out with your family and friends. For some people, it’s a cultural thing. It could also be linked to certain holidays such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. For others, it’s more competitive – a simple matter of one-upmanship.

Interestingly, the lead researcher of the study, Dr. Helen Ruddock found that there were some instances where people were compelled to eat less socially. “People want to convey positive impressions to strangers, Dr. Ruddock said.

“Selecting small portions may provide a means of doing so and this may be why the social facilitation of eating is less pronounced amongst groups of strangers. Findings from previous research suggest that we often choose what (and how much) to eat based on the type of impression that we want to convey about ourselves.”

So, a bit of mindfulness seems to be the best safeguard against overeating with friends and family. There’s no need to spoil your fun though. Just keep in mind that you’re not eating for survival or competition. That is, unless your friend is reaching for the last nacho.

About Freddy Blackmon 224 Articles
Freddy Blackmon is a freelance writer and journalist who has a passion for cars, technology, and fitness. Look for articles on these topics and more. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.