Updated 30 January 2018

Could eating with fat people make you eat more?

It's not always just the food that's important – the people at your table can also affect your weight.

Ever had to answer the question, "Which famous person would you love to have dinner with?"

Think carefully before you choose your ideal dinner partner – turns out your companion is just as important as the food on your plate when it comes to weight management. 

When eating out, helpful tricks like sharing an entrée or ordering an appetiser instead of a main dish can curb calories. But your choice of dining companions may factor into the equation, too.

What the study entailed

An experiment done at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab confirmed the theory that people are less likely to stick to their own diet rules when eating with or near someone who is overweight. The researchers found that diners at a buffet ate larger portions of unhealthy foods – and smaller portions of healthy food – even when the overweight person ate less.

One possible explanation for this behaviour is that people become less in tune with their goals when they see others who are overweight.

Studies have also found that diners can be influenced by being near anyone who's overeating, even when that person is slim. Their overeating can encourage your overeating.

Your strategy

No, we are not suggesting that you get rid of friends or family members and eat in solitude. Avoiding overeating takes planning and knowing your weaknesses.

1. Know your enemy

Identify when you are triggered to eat more, and practice self-control in those situations.

2. Avoid the pitfalls

Stay out of harm's way by avoiding all-you-can-eat restaurants or buffet options. If, however, you find yourself in such a situation, take control by having small portions of the foods you absolutely love and loading the rest of your plate with vegetables.

3. Tell it to the world

Tell your dining companions about your diet goals so they won't unintentionally tempt you to overeat; also remind yourself of your goals before you enter any restaurant.

4. Plan, plan, plan

When possible, decide in advance what you're going to order by reading menus on restaurant websites. This makes it less likely that you'll be influenced by your environment.

For those times when you do find yourself facing a buffet, take a full tour of the table before you make any selections. Other research from Cornell found that people load up on the foods placed at the beginning of a buffet and that they take even larger helpings when the dishes are unhealthy. So, be sure to identify the location of the healthiest choices before you reach for a serving spoon and start filling your plate.

Image credit: iStock


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