Girls’ Night Out: What Makes Us Eat More When We Eat Out

Birthdays. Mah-Jongg. Book Club. Ever go out with the girls and find yourself digging into the chips and guacamole or the family-style penne vodka faster than Fred Flintstone said “Yabba-dabba-doo”? While we love each other’s company, being with a group of women can take its toll on the best-laid diet plans.

Be a trendsetter! Women eating in groups mimic each other’s eating behaviors and mannerisms. We aren’t really aware of it, but it’s hard wired. It has to do with socializing and fitting in. Studies show that when we mimic other people, they like us more. So, if a friend reaches for that chocolate chip cookie, it increases the chances that you will too. Don’t get new friends- lead the pack! Order wisely- and watch as others mimic your lead!

Eat from your own plate. Eating in a large group can instill a subconscious fear that if you don’t get in there quickly, the food will disappear. My client, Heather, loves to go out for sushi to celebrate just about anything. To avoid overeating, she now asks for a small plate, chooses five pieces of her favorite sushi, and keeps them all to herself. At our next session, Heather told me that she’d felt calmer, eaten more slowly, and enjoyed the company more than ever.

Be Mindful of Big Portions. Restaurants serve big servings. And of course we eat the food that is in front of us. A recent Cochrane review examined 72 studies and concluded that if you serve people larger portions, they eat more. It’s automatic. We don’t notice the difference between the amounts of food in a larger or smaller bowl.  Share your dish or get half wrapped to go. Bingo! Two meals for the price of one!

Practice Saying No. It is much harder for people to refuse food than to accept it. It takes much more mental effort to say no, whereas yes is automatic. Our brains are wired so that something like food, especially if it is novel (we don’t have a chocolate soufflé at our fingertips at home), gets us excited and creates a craving or desire to act. We may think that we’re independent of our environment, but often times we are not. We see something, and we react to it, because our bodies fire up our food craving neurohormones. Have you ever reached for the breadbasket and then thought, “What am I doing?” You didn’t want to eat the food, but you just did it automatically.

Have Fun! Chances are you’ve tasted every food you’ve ever wanted. Focus on the company and the atmosphere (and not having to clean any dishes!). Don’t live to eat… eat to live! Then just do it!


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