Dining with friends or family is generally an enjoyable, social experience. Even if we do have positive group dining experiences, it’s undeniable that we change our eating behaviours during these times. Quite often, we can be motivated to overindulge or even feel pressure to restrict our eating. Either way, there can be some explanation offered as to why this happens.
A Study of Dining
In the 1980s, health psychologist John de Castro completed a series of diary studies that highlighted the social influences in eating. By 1994, there were over 500 personal accounts from people who ate in company or alone.
Generally, it was found that more people chose to eat in groups than they did alone. Other studies and experiments discovered that people tended to eat more when dining in groups. Diners ate 40% more ice-cream and 10% more beef and cheese whilst in groups compared to dining alone. De Castro named this behaviour as “social facilitation” and described it as an important influence on eating.
What Factors Change Our Eating Habits?
Hunger, mood and distracting social interactions weren’t the only factors that increased food intake. When people are in social groups, the meal time gets extended because we are enjoying the company we’re with. As a result of the extended time, we use those extra minutes to eat more food. In general, bigger parties tend to take more time eating their meals.
There is much more enjoyment and anticipation involved in a group dining experience. Social meals appear to increase hunger amongst diners and create more desire for the food they are expecting. In response, we tend to order more as individuals and even decide what we will eat some time before the meal is due to start. Indulgence is an important part of these experiences and because others are also indulging, we feel much more inclined to join in.
However, in some cases we can eat less when dining with others. The need to indulge may become much tamer when our fellow diners are opting to eat less. We then respond by doing the same as to appear less indulgent or to simply follow what everyone else is doing.