Are Your Friends Making You Fat?

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Food + friends = overeating

Eating with others tends to increase the amount of food we consume, by one-third to three-quarters more total calories. In one week-long study involving 63 women, researchers found that the average meal eaten alone consisted of 410 calories, while the average meal consumed with others was 591 calories. In another study, published in Appetite, the 78 women studied ate between 34 and 45 percent more calories when they consumed their food in a social setting.
So we know that our friends can persuade us to eat more, the question is: Why? Elizabeth Somer, author of Nutrition for Women (Owl, 2001), says, “There are a number of factors at play here. It could be that your guard is down, or that you’re focusing on your socializing so you end up unconsciously eating more food.” Also, when friends are involved, we tend to eat in restaurants where portions are bigger. Somer also believes there may be anthropologic reasons behind eating more when in a group. “There very well could be some instinctive thing based on thousands, if not millions, of years of evolution. When food is around, you need to compete with the group to make sure you’ve got your share. It’s an instinctive drive.”

Quick Fixes

  • Eat something before you leave to take the edge off your appetite or have a big glass of water.
  • If you decide to have an alcoholic beverage, try a light beer or wine over mixed drinks. Fruity cocktails may look inviting but they average 400 to 600 calories a pop.
  • “Walk in with a strategy,” says Somers. “Don’t think you’re going to wing it.” Decide before you leave what you’ll order so that you won’t be tempted by what your friends are having.
  • Look for restaurants where there are healthier menu choices, and suggest non-eating social activities.

Relationship diet pitfalls

Go from single gal to half of a couple and you may gain more than just a partner. If you try to keep pace with your guy at the dinner table, unwanted pounds will also enter your relationship. Since men are typically taller, more muscular, and heavier than women, they can eat more. “When you start spending more time with a guy, your food consumption usually goes up,” says Dr. Jackie Berning, assistant professor of Nutrition at the University of Colorado. “Men eat much larger portions than women. They also tend to eat foods that are higher in fat and calories such as steak, pizza, chips, and beer,” says Palumbo. While you can enjoy the occasional pizza slice, don’t try to keep up with your man forkful for forkful.

Quick fixes

  • Influence your partner to eat healthier. Look for tasty, nutritious meals that the two of you can cook together such as chicken stir-fry. When prepared with just a touch of olive oil, it’s a great low-calorie dish that is high in lean protein and packed with fiber-rich, filling vegetables. Chili made with extra-lean ground beef or ground turkey is a guy favorite with a healthy spin.
  • “Men don’t typically eat a lot of fruit,” says Berning. “Why not incorporate more fruits into your diets as a healthy dessert or snack.”
  • Rather than spend your evenings watching TV or a movie, sign up for a rock-climbing course or go for a bike ride together.

The family that eats together

Perhaps the most dangerous of all situations is the family get-together. “Not only is there a social hindrance to eating well, but now you also have the potential stress of family members that don’t get along,” says Somer. “There’s also the pressure of ‘mom’s going to make me eat this.’” The result is that you often overeat not only because of the celebrating but to cope with the stress of being around your family.

When IFBB fitness pro Jen Hendershott began training and competing, her parents were concerned about the radical change in her eating habits. “It was a huge issue for about two years,” says Hendershott. “My mother thought I was anorexic because I wasn’t eating what the family was eating. I’d come home every couple of weekends and they’d see the drastic changes in me.”
Hendershott realized she had to educate her parents about her diet and plans to compete. “I just tried to explain to them what I was doing and what the purpose was,” she says. “Until they actually saw me compete and talked to my trainer, they didn’t get it. I had to educate them. I stuck to my guns, and told them I really wanted to do this.”

Quick fixes

  • Preplanned action plan is your best defense. If your mom becomes upset when you refuse her homemade dessert, tell her you’ll have one small piece of chocolate cake, but stop at that.
  • “Bring food with you,” says Somer. “If you’re a vegetarian and everyone you grew up with are steak-and-baked-potato people, bring a vegetable dish.”

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