How can my friends influence my eating habits?

Dr. David L. Katz, MD, MPH
Preventive Medicine
There were two recent studies about the influence what and when and how we eat has on one another. One study suggested that we snack in the presence of others who are snacking to make both them, and ourselves, feel at ease. The other study suggested that young women mimicked one another’s behavior at mealtime -- even to the point of synchronized chewing.

As for social influences on eating: of course we find them when we look for them! We homo sapiens are and always have been social animals, and eating has always been a social activity. Food is shared. What, when, and how much others of the clan eat helps us know what's reasonable, appropriate, and right. Mimicry of this kind likely has deep roots in anthropology, and perhaps even biology. If the young of a species don't mimic the dietary patterns of the adults, they risk ingesting poisons or starving. In the bluntest terms -- we learn what, when, and how to eat watching others of our kind do it.

That said, I’m not all that impressed by evidence of synchronized chewing when young women eat together. If two young women are having a meal together, they have a choice: talk, or chew. It may be that they synchronize chewing because at other times they are talking. It may all come down to: don't talk with your mouth full!

That we are prone in general to eat too much, and all the wrong things, to fit in with others doing so cries out for a trend going the other way. Imagine the simple power of talking about our interest in being healthy and lean, and eating well to help get there -- and asking others to help us. Simple candor about the importance, and challenge, of this effort could get us all a bit closer to the prize with a little help from our friends. Peer pressure doesn’t have to work against us.

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