When trying to achieve your weight management goals, it is easy and all too tempting to focus only on what you’re eating. But it turns out that the environment in which you eat may play just as important a role as what you eat. After all, nothing happens in a vacuum. We are an intensely social and sensitive species, so it would only make sense that eating with others can have profound effects on what we eat and how much we eat. Look at your own eating behavior. Do you eat more or less around others? Do you eat healthier foods alone or when you’re with friends?
Research so far on the topic has shown that eating with others increases the amount of food we eat. Studies typically show somewhat varied, but always increased percentages of calories that are consumed when people eat in the presence of others. This is probably due to a few reasons. One is that when eating with others, we are often distracted by hopefully good conversation (if you’re eating with the right friends). This leads to less mindful eating, and mindful eating is one of most overlooked aspects of maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle. Another reason is that seeing others consume food socially influences us to eat more. We often unconsciously mirror other people’s posture and expression when in conversation with them. It would follow then that watching someone else eat would unconsciously drive you to eat more. But it is also true that if the person or people you’re with are picking at their plates like baby birds, then you’ll unconsciously eat less. And if you’re eating and someone else is just watching you without having a meal themselves? Might as well forget about it, just set down the fork because you’re done (this is why restaurants train their employees not to take plates away until everyone is finished). Also, eating with strangers instead of friends had a smaller effect on increased calorie consumption. It may seem then that a good weight loss strategy would be to go on a lot of first dates. But, in this case, what’s good for weight loss might not be so good for your state of mental well-being.
And what about eating and doing anything else? Do we eat more or less when we’re multitasking? Research has shown that we eat more. A distracted brain will consume more simply because it’s forced to multitask and doesn’t regulate itself as well. Now, if you’re sitting there thinking, “Well I know I’m a good multitasker,” then consider that research has also shown that the worst multitaskers are those who think they’re great multitaskers. Again, when we’re eating and say, watching TV, reading, talking on the phone, browsing the internet, or driving, we are not being as mindful about eating as we probably should. Multitasking while eating drowns out our body’s satiety signals and doesn’t allow us to stay in touch as well with what we’re eating, how much we’re eating, and how full we might be getting.
But then again, eating alone without even the (gasp!) TV on can be kind of a downer, or boring at best, unless you’re eating something totally amazing. As with all human behavior, a strong psychological component comes into play here as well. Ok, so we might eat more when we’re eating with other people. But consider the fact that many studies have also concluded that being social and among friends is great for not only your mental well-being, but also your physical health. The body and mind are one system, and what affects one always affects the other. So perhaps a few extra calories are worth it if you’re having such an enjoyable time that it makes you happier and leads to less stress and anxiety (both of which lead directly to poor physical health). The take home message is to simply try and be a more mindful eater. And although this is easier to accomplish while eating alone, eating with others and having a strong social circle is not only good for your physical health, but also a great predictor of overall happiness.
Article Courtesy: Andrew Steingrube
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