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You eat more when you are eating with friends and family

Posted October 5, 2019

There are no better pleasures in life than eating with your friends and family. You get to share stories just like you share food and it’s great. But have you noticed that you eat considerably more when you are eating with other people? An international team of scientists from UK and Australia found that people eat more with friends and family than when dining alone and that could be an evolutionary trait.

Eating with friends means eating more. Image credit: Nightscream via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

Social facilitation, as this phenomenon is known in science community, is actually known for quite some time. Researchers have noticed that when people eat with others they consume 48 % more food. Even obese women eating socially consumed up to 29% more than when eating alone. As you might imagine, we don’t need more food when we are eating with friends and family. Although these gatherings may be exhausting and require a considerable amount of energy, extra intake of food is actually unrelated to that. Furthermore, those people who enjoy social eating may be facing an increased risk of becoming overweight.

An international team of scientists led by the University of Birmingham analysed 42 existing studies of research into social dining. Researchers found that people ate more when they knew other people by the table. It could be because of several reasons, including social norms that make it acceptable to eat more in social gatherings than when eating alone. However, it could also be an evolutionary trait – hunters and gatherers shared food and ate a lot to survive for longer. Finally, scientists found that we choose what and how much food we consume by the impression we want to make. That is also why some people spend more money more easily when they are with friends and family members.

Humans are not unique in this regard – some other species also eat more when not eating alone. A similar phenomenon has been observed between rats, chickens, gerbils and other species, suggesting it serves an ultimate purpose. You want to eat more than others, because food is disappearing quickly and you need to survive. Dr Helen Ruddock, lead researcher in the study, said: “What we describe as ‘social facilitation’ can be seen as a natural by-product of social food sharing – a strategy that would have served a critical function in our ancestral environments. This also explains why it is more likely to occur in groups with individuals who are familiar with each other”.

If it is really in our genes, there is pretty much nothing you can do – you will overeat when you are with your friends and family. Just be aware of that. Eat different kinds of food, but at optimal amounts. You don’t have to compete for resources – we lived pass that, so act like it.


Source: University of Birmingham

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