The Hard Facts: Eat, Drink and Be Heavy

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating in the science of friendship

“If you dine with one other person you will eat about 35 percent more than if you were alone. (Spouses don’t have this effect because couples tend to get into a regular eating pattern and consume about the same amount.)  If you eat with a party of seven or more, you will gobble up 96 percent more, or nearly twice as much. … And if you get a table for four, you will end up right in the middle, eating about 75 percent more calories than if you dined alone.” (Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think in “Your Friends May Be Your Diet’s Worst Enemies,” msnbc.com)

Here’s a fact I’m not proud of: I’ve gained about 10 pounds in the last year. There, I said it.

I attribute this to two things: Getting married and making friends. Obviously it’s more complicated than that. Marriage and friendship don’t actually cause weight gain. But a skipped session (or five) on the treadmill because I don’t have a wedding to prep for, does. As does the extra donut, glass of wine, or shrimp tempura that comes with friend dating.

If there’s a down side to making new pals, this is it.

I hate being the party pooper who declines birthday cake or beer, but when it comes to eating out with friends (be they the old or potential variety) harder than saying no is dealing with the annoyed glances or “come on, have just one” comments from fellow diners. I know, rationally, that I should say “screw ‘em,” but it’s never fun to feel like you’re being judged. People don’t like going out with someone who eats healthy—it’s an unwelcome reminder when the girl across the table resists the french fries. And when a new friend says, “We must order the mayo-soaked lobster covered in cheese and onion rings, it’s the specialty!” I feel like I can’t say no. So I don’t.

Or, didn’t. I’ve gotten back on track recently, but it’s not easy.  What do we do with new friends? Go to dinner. Grab drinks. Thank god most of my girl dates are one-on-one. If I had pizza parties too often, I’d be a balloon.

Wansink says part of the problem is that friends enjoy each other’s company so much that we spend more time at the table. The longer we sit with a plate of pasta—or basket of bread, or bowl of ice cream—the more we’ll eat.

Wansink’s got tips for resolving food with friends:

  • Only eat out with healthy eaters. (Not so easy when I haven’t met the person yet.)
  • Sit next to slow eaters who will pace your intake. (See previous.)
  • Follow a rule of two: Aside from your entrée, allow yourself only two items—bread and a glass of wine, app and dessert, whatever. But only two.  (Manageable.)

Do you eat more when you’re with friends? What do you think of these tips? Have any of your own?

27 Comments

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27 responses to “The Hard Facts: Eat, Drink and Be Heavy

  1. Rule #3 seems a bit indulgent- if you’re having the app, the entrée, and the dessert, how restrained are you really being?…I’ve always believed that if you eat out of a lot- be it with friends, family, or whoever- you are going to gain weight…unless you learn to control your portions.

    Have you seen the calorie counts at many of the top chain restaurants? One appetizer alone can often exceed one’s recommend calorie intake for a day.

  2. My tips for pacing myself when eating out:

    1. I often skip the main course altogether, and get two apps as my meal. It’s usually a much more manageable amount of food–especially if I have my eye on a dessert.

    2. If you do get a main, and especially if it’s huge, try to plan to eat exactly half, and take the rest home in a doggie bag for lunch the next day.

  3. I think another problem is how HUGE the portion sizes are in restaurants. I often order an appetizer for an entree (just as long as it’s not something like fried calamari) or split an entree with someone (which is kind of out of the question if you don’t know the person well).

    I didn’t know that little factoid about eating more when others are around…I don’t think I do, but I’m going to be more mindful now.

  4. Lisa Z

    My weight management techniques are as follows: I eat around 200 calories for breakfast, an Amy’s frozen entree for lunch (usually around 350 calories and delicious, also vegetarian). I know that I need to eat around 1600 calories a day to stay my desirable weight, while still maintaining a sedentary lifestyle. This intake during the day leaves me enough calories at night (around 1000) to essentially eat what I want. This technique is pretty good, I need to monitor of course, as it is not foolproof. There are some days when my dinner is probably over 1000 calories, but usually I am right around there or under. This strategy allows me to go out to dinner with my manfriend and our friends or coworkers with drinks. 10 lbs sounds about right as far as what I gained when I moved from NYC. I walk a lot less now.

  5. JenD

    I have no problem saying no to something I wouldn’t normally consume. I figure if someone is going to influence the other, maybe it’ll flow from me to them (I’m naturally not an overindulger). Also, I tend to eat less with friends because I’m too busy flapping my gums if the conversation is flowing nicely (which is, by far, better than jamming food in my mouth when there’s nothing to say).

    I always say, be yourself. If you don’t really want that second (or fourth) beer, decline it. And if some potential BFF is judging you for not scarfing down mass quantities, do you really want to hang out with her again anyway?

  6. I definitely fall victim to eating more when I’m around other people or when I’m with people that I don’t know that well. My internal voice of reason seems to shut off and I find myself eating ice cream or fried foods that I definitely wouldn’t normally eat. I think the idea about only allowing yourself two extra of something is a food idea, although I think app, dinner, and dessert could still be potentially fatal depending on what you’re having. I think for me, limiting myself to one drink would save me a lot of calories, because I think sometimes it’s the alcohol that makes me thing that this extra bite of ________ won’t matter later…

  7. Megan

    I am “that girl” who is persistently and annoyingly healthy. There are many restaurants I actually can’t go to anymore now that I’m officially Vegan (I was raised vegetarian and so never developed the enzymes to digest meat) and am lactose intolerant (can’t eat dairy). The combination leads to no animal products, which is HARD to do in this country (harder overseas, oddly enough), not just because of the lack of options, but because of the attitude towards meat and milk and animal products being the “only” way to get certain nutrients. I’m the nerd that brings out all this health research I’ve done about healthy diets (not to mention the ethical implications of America’s food industry). I can’t say I’m used to being judged – I do hate feeling like I either can have what I want (friends, relationships, understanding, support) OR be who I am (a rather fiery animal rights/environmental activist and healthy eater), but not both. But, I don’t make exceptions for how I eat (my body doesn’t give my much choice anyway) or what I believe…hopefully the right friend will come along soon).

    • Megan, I hear you! I’ve been vegetarian for nearly 20 years and I get SO tired of the litany of questions that ensues as soon as someone finds out I don’t eat meat. “You don’t eat meat? Why don’t you eat meat? How long has it been since you’ve eaten meat? If you don’t eat meat, what do you eat?” Argh!

      After this many years, I don’t feel the need to talk about my eating habits, but most people seem to want an explanation. I don’t bring it up but it seems someone always notices if I order something veg. And then they assume I’m judging them — when I honestly could not care less what they are eating. It’s a personal choice on my part that I don’t try and push on others.

      I have a potential-friend-date tonight at a restaurant I’ve never been to and am just dreading the inevitable dissection of my eating habits…

  8. Rachel, one thing that works for me is to never finish the whole meal that I’m served. Restaurant portions are huge and most of us don’t need all those calories/fat at one sitting. I usually try to eat around half and get the rest wrapped up. It’s an easy solution that people usually don’t notice or try and talk me out of — I mean, if you’re full, you’re full, right?

    You know, I have never understood why people are sometimes so concerned with what others are eating!

  9. When I’m with friends, yes I absolutely fall into the trap of eating more. The way I (try to) combat it is this: order an appetizer with the friend if at all, order an entree to either split or don’t eat the whole thing (or I order something like soup/salad for my entree, but realistically, this rarely happens), and only order a dessert if we’re splitting it. It helps though that all of my friends are on the same page as me with food!

  10. Ana

    I think tip #3 is great—I’ll have to try it. The first two are really hard to do, and as you mentioned, impossible when you want to meet new people. When I am on a really healthy kick, I feel I have to be somewhat anti-social—in order to have time for the gym and/or to avoid tempting situations. I have tried the “only eat half” approach, and it does work, but when you’re all done with your half, and you are still sitting around gabbing, its hard not to nibble on your leftovers.
    Sometimes (depending on the friend) you can state upfront that you are trying to be healthy today, or not to drink too much, spend too much etc… A good friend SHOULD support you in that if they know that is your goal, and once you’ve said it out loud, you are kind of accountable.
    Its not easy to do on a friend-date, though, you don’t want to seem like a buzz-kill from the get-go.

    And who are these people that question what you eat? How annoying.

    Though I will mention that I have a kinda-friend/acquaintance that is CONSTANTLY on a diet, and will go out and order a water and a bowl of lettuce EVERYWHERE we go, when I am starving and want a reasonable (not excessive!) meal. It does make me feel awkward, and not want to go out with her. while I understand where she is coming from, its not my idea of “eating”. Sure, order a vegetarian/vegan/healthy/small/cheap meal, but order a meal and at least pick at it so I don’t feel like you are watching me eat all evening!

  11. I share an app or two with friends when we go out. I say: anything in moderation. Plus, it saves money and it’s just as satisfying to nibble on something than it is to shovel a whole meal of food down the hatch. That, and I found myself a mountain man who forces me to hike for days on end. That helps, too.

  12. And here’s another piece of advice I’d add to that list: get a to-go box with your meal and automatically put half of it away. That way, you only eat your portion no matter how long you linger at the table.

  13. I actually eat less when I’m out with Good friends because I chat so much. I might DRINK more, but not eat more. But, if I were “dating” friends, then awkward moments may be filled with eating in which case I may eat more. Maybe all “date” nights should just be at bars! Instead of restaurants!

    Very interesting and enjoyable post, as usual!

  14. Eating out for me is so different now that I know I have Celiac (gluten intolerance). So that really limits what I eat, so I usually keep it in check. And in general, my friends are pretty healthy eaters. A lot of times we will just split 1-2 aps togehter as a group. We try not to over order and tell ourselves that if we are still hungry, we can always order another ap.

    In the past, I always seem to gain weight when I am in a relationship, though. i hope that does not happen in my next relationship, though, as I really do not want to put on another 10 pounds!

  15. Lani

    I totally eat more with friends! I have been blamed for years that I “force” my friends to eat. I don’t mind being a good eatting partner. Eatting out is my recreation and social time. More mindful of choices and portions as reading those calorie guides can ruin the recklessness. Never will ditch wine or desert….then why go out?!

  16. Jen

    My tip would be to get some kind of disease or syndrome which restricts your eating – well, not really.

    But I have IBS and it means that I really can’t eat huge amounts, and there are certain foods which I shouldn’t eat – nobody argues with you when you say it’s medical. So to those people who aren’t that bothered about telling little lies, it could be a good one!

    On a slightly more realistic note, ask if you can split a dessert/entree with your friend. That way you aren’t being a party pooper, you can eat some delicious pie or cake or something, and you won’t end up eating as much as you would do otherwise…. maybe.

  17. With friends, of course, I eat too much. If I know that I am going out with friends in the evening, I usually eat less during the day. It takes a certain amount of discipline, but I am addicted to weighing myself on the scale and hate when that number increases.

  18. Samantha

    Try being poor, then you won’t be ordering the app, the entre, the salad, the desert, to stuff down your gut, because you’re doing math in your head, lol.

    Enjoyed your article on lemondrop. Very well written. I agree, it’s difficult to find friends. I think it’s mostly because honestly, people are not friend material. Most don’t understand the point of a friend, nor want one, because they use their boyfriend in place of a real friend, or create little friends out of their womb. Friend. Wife. Parent. These are completely separate roles, needing clear boundaries.

    As far as the food thing, I really don’t think it’s the food, it’s just consuming something with a friend is that is bonding. When I was your age I actually ate less with friends because I drank. But yes, you have to share something, otherwise you’re not consumating the encounter. Nachos, or peel-n-eat shrimp, or entrees, or the bread, sharing a desert, drinking wine or doing shots together, smoking weed together, whatever it is there has to be something so don’t fight it. Just we aware of what you tend to consume/share and maintain moderation with it.

  19. Patti

    Realitiscally, how often do you go out to eat anyhow? Once a month?? If you eat well MOST of the other times when you are not out with friends, then go for it! Just don’t let it become a habit! (sometimes one over indulgence leads to another….just be careful!)
    And, also, don’t eat all day, save up for it! My son used to be overweight and is not now, and he is very, very conscious of what and how much he eats….he is planning to go out with his girlfriend for a celebration dinner TODAY and he started to cut back on his food intake in preperation YESTERDAY! Plus you will get full faster, I think, when your tummy is empty, so even tho you may want to, you may not be able to pig out!

  20. Julia

    You know Rachel, eating fiber burns fat. No joke. Fiber subtracts the amount of calories you absorb in a meal. So you might try getting way more fruits, veggies, and nuts in your diet, like generally throughout the day. And if you go out to eat and your friend says, “Oh, you must try X!!” go ahead. You only live once. But also get some sort of vegetable(s) with that treat. A veggie you like (cuz veggies are really yummy, but I understand that not everybody loves every veggies that exists). And if your friend doesn’t like your explanation that you like veggies, then they’re not really good friend potential, are they??

    Also, I’d think of those 10 lbs as “friend cushion,” kind of an exterior cue that people like to go out to eat with you. It’s kind of a badge of honour. As long as you focus on healthy habits at the same time, you’ll get those pounds off. (Have you ever tried eating your daily calories in just fruit and veggies? You get full really quickly.)

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