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Who You Eat With Can Make You Eat More

Last week, I wrote about how large portion sizes make people eat more. No doubt, there will be many times this Christmas season when you will be faced with a large slice of cake or a big helping of pasta.

I hope you remember to share your calories with a friend or take home the other half of that huge serving because if you don't, research indicates you will most likely eat all of it whether you are really hungry or not.

But gigantic portion sizes are not the only things that encourage you to eat more than you need. Research has found that friends, variety of food served, lights, music and alcohol are some of the other things that can make you overeat.

Effect of socializing
Appetite researcher Barbara Rolls has done several experiments at Penn State University to determine if socializing has an effect on how much people eat.

First, she found that people eat 44 percent more when they eat with others than if they eat alone. She believes this is probably because they are distracted by the presence of other people and don't pay attention to how much they are eating.

Second, she found that when people are allowed to socialize with friends while eating, they eat 50 percent more.

The biggest difference was with dessert. This could be because friends enjoy each other's company so much that they want to extend their time together and they linger over dessert, which is the last part of the meal.

In the process, they end up eating more than they should. People also tend to egg each other on to have another serving, maybe because they want to justify their own second helping.

Rolls also found that women tend to eat smaller portions when they are dining with a man they find attractive, but eat regular-sized portions when they eat with a man they are not physically attracted to.

So guys, this could be one of the ways to find out if your date finds you attractive or not. If she eats dainty portions, she thinks you're hot. If she eats like a chow hound, it's only friendship that she has in mind.

Rolls says that the male participants in her studies ate the same amount regardless of whether they found their female dining companion attractive or not.

Tufts University Diet and Nutrition Newsletter reported the results of an experiment that used three different musical backgrounds while people ate a meal.

The subjects in the no-music background took four bites per minute, finished their meal in 40 minutes, and 33 percent of them asked for second helpings.

The lively music group averaged five bites per minute and finished eating in 31 minutes. Half the group asked for second helpings.

The subjects who ate their meal to calming flute music took nearly an hour to finish, averaged 3.2 bites per minute, took smaller bites and not even one asked for second helpings. Not only that, most of them left one-fourth of their food on their plates.

The study implies that if you want to eat less, play relaxing music while you eat. Mealtimes are probably not the right time to play the latest dance tunes.

Bright lights open up appetite
In an experiment set in a restaurant, consumer psychologist Brian Wansink found that people who were led to tables with bright lighting and upbeat music ate more and ate faster than the people who were led to tables with dim lighting and soft music.

Now you know why fast-food joints have bright lighting, vibrant colored decor and blaring music. This kind of an eating environment increases table turnover.

However, another study found that dim lights encourage overeating in people with eating disorders like bulimia and compulsive eating. This may be because bright lights make them conscious of how much they are eating while dim lighting allows them to "hide" and eat away.

Alcohol doesn't just loosen up your lips so you become more talkative; it also loosens your appetite control. Not only does alcohol trick you into thinking that the food tastes better than it actually is so you end up eating more, your sense of being full is no longer accurate when you have a couple of drinks in you.

Another reason alcohol can cause weight gain is that even small quantities stimulate the production of gastric or stomach juices and, therefore, increases your appetite.

More variety, more calories
According to a report in the Tufts Newsletter, human beings are genetically programmed for "sensory specific satiety."

This simply means that if you keep eating the same kind of food, you get sick of eating it. The report explains it another way: The second chocolate bar never tastes as good as the first and might go unfinished.

That's why you eat more when you eat "family style" in a restaurant where everyone orders something different and you share all the dishes compared to when you order your own main course. This is the reason you pig out at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Scientists from the University of Buffalo in New York confirmed this when they reviewed 39 studies and found that people who were given different choices in a multi-course meal ate 44 percent more than the people who were given the same type of food for each course.

Researchers have found that people who do not eat a large variety of food (except for fruits and vegetables) have an easier time losing weight. This means it's okay to have three kinds of fruit available at home but not three kinds of dessert.

Low-fat perceptions increase appetite
According to Rolls, people have a tendency to eat more when they believe the food is low in fat. In one of her studies, female participants were given yogurt before eating lunch.

The group that was told that they were eating low-fat yogurt ate significantly more at lunch compared to the group that was told they were eating regular yogurt. "They equated the low-fat label with low calories and gave themselves license to eat more lunch," Rolls says.


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