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When I wrote NICE GIRLS FINISH FAT, I found scant research to back up my contention that there seemed to be a link between women being too nice and overeating. Now an article entitled “How people-pleasing may lead to overeating” by Alexandra Sifferlin (TIME HEALTHLAND, 2/2/12) hints at what may be going on.
The article cites two studies. In one, researchers at Case Western Reserve University found that “people-pleasers tend to overeat in social settings in an effort to make other people feel more comfortable. They feel pressure to eat, whether they’re hungry or not, in order to match what people around them are eating,” though they end up later regretting their choices. It seems that people-pleasers eat more “when they believe that their eating will help another person feel more comfortable.”
In another study, researchers at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands found that subjects were inclined to “mimic each other’s eating behavior—taking bites when their dining partner took a bite…” Researchers “couldn’t say for sure that the women were synchronizing their eating in order to seem more likeable, but previous research has found that this tactic works: people report greater liking for those who mimic their behavior.” Other interesting findings are that people tend to eat more with others than alone; moreover, they are apt to consume as little or as much as their companions.
What does this research mean for you: that you can never eat with others or must dine only with thinner companions if you want to eat less? Of course not. It means that when you eat with others, it’s vital to be acutely aware of how hungry you are, how much you’re enjoying your food, the pace of your eating, and satiation signals telling you when you’re full or satisfied. I would add that when you’re fully tuned into your appetite and are regularly eating “normally,” you’ll be eating to your own drum anyway and what and how much companions consume may not factor into consumption at all.
When you sit down to eat with others, do a couple of things before digging in. Begin by assessing your hunger level. Be aware of the eating habits of your dining companions—ask yourself if they tend to be fast or slow eaters. Check in with yourself often, especially about the pace of your food intake. Chew away and give food a minute to rest on your tongue. Keep your attention on your own plate only and ignore what anyone else is doing. Don’t worry about being out of sync with anyone but yourself. And if you have to please someone at the table, make sure it’s yourself!
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