Gender Effects on Overeating | Health Blog

Date: 12/05/2015    Written by: Beth Levine

Your Dining Partners and Overeating

Gender Effects on Overeating | Health Blog

Humans are, for the most part, a social species, and the majority of us prefer to have our meals in the company of others rather than alone. Oftentimes, our plans with others revolve around having lunch or dinner together as it is a nice chance to sit together and catch up. But according to new research, who you choose as your dining companions may make a big difference in the amount you consume, particularly if you're a man.

The study, which took place at The Cornell University Food and Brand Lab in Ithaca, New York, found that the quantity of food a person eats at a meal may vary significantly depending on the gender of the others at the table, potentially exerting more influence than even appetite.1 The subjects were 105 adult men and women between the ages of 18 and 81 who dined at lunchtime at an all-you-can-eat Italian buffet restaurant. The scientists spent two weeks keeping track of every participant's gender and dining partners, in addition to noting the number of pizza slices and bowls of salad they each consumed.

What they discovered was somewhat surprising. It turned out that the male volunteers were more affected than the female volunteers by the gender of their dining companions in terms of the quantity they ate. And surprisingly, the men ate quite a bit more when dining with women than they did when dining with other men. This contrasts with earlier investigations such as a 2011 study at Indiana University of Pennsylvania that showed evidence of women curbing their food consumption in the presence of male dining partners.2

But in the present trial, the men spending their lunch with at least one woman ate 93 percent more pizza, which was approximately one-and-a-half extra slices, and 86 percent more salad compared to those men who dined just with other men. On the other hand, the women subjects consumed the same quantities of food whether dining with other women or men.

Warp Speed from Baseline Nutritionals

In addition to observing their eating habits, as the participants were preparing to exit the restaurant, the scientists requested that they complete a questionnaire. It focused on how full they reported themselves to be after their meal, whether they felt rushed during the meal, and their comfort level while eating. Despite the fact that the women were seen eating no greater quantities when they dined with men, their perceptions were found to be different based on their mealtime companions. When women ate in the presence of at least one man, they were more likely to say that they overate and hurried through the meal.

The main flaw of the research is its size, since the population sample included was so tiny it is difficult to say that it truly represents most people. However, the findings do correlate with earlier studies that have shown the societal impact that gender often plays in social situations, such as a 2015 study at Pennsylvania State University in University Park that found men eat more spicy food to show off their manliness.3

Ultimately, the takeaway message from the current study may be that we should be more cognizant of the influence our dining partners can have on us and try to think about that before we let it affect us. For men, that means considering portion control before you even begin eating so you don't end up mindlessly consuming too much or subconsciously overeating in a misguided attempt to impress a lady with your masculine appetite. And for women, it means determining portion size at the start of the meal so you don't wind up feeling that you've overeaten as well as slowing the pace of your meal to avoid feeling hurried. If we make a little effort to stick to these mental checklists, they should become habit over time, and all of us can enjoy our meals better no matter what the gender of our companions.

  • 1. Kniffin, Kevin M.; Sigirci, Ozge; and Wansink, Brian. "Eating Heavily: Men Eat More in the Company of Women." Evolutionary Psychological Science. 10 November 2015. Accessed 24 November 2015.
  • 2. Allen-O'Donnell, Molly; et al. "Impact of Group Settings and Gender on Meals Purchased by College Students." Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 20 September 2011. Accessed 25 November 2015.
  • 3. Byrnes, Nadia K. and Hayes, John E. "Gender differences in the influence of personality traits on spicy food liking and intake." Food Quality and Preference. 9 January 2015. Accessed 25 November 2015.

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