They always say you are what you eat. And it turns out that you may be what your friends eat, too. A recent study showed that people were happier with their choices in restaurants if they were making similar choices to those sitting next to them — and that groups may have both positive and negative influences on your dining decisions.
The study used lunch receipts from a restaurant that used three menus designed by the researchers. The control group used the restaurant’s original menus; another group received menus with calorie counts, and the third group used menus that had calorie counts and a traffic light indicating calorie ranges of the menu item in question. Red lights, of course, corresponded with the highest calorie items. Eating patterns emerged for the researchers, and servers who were interviewed even saw a trend of those in large groups with the traffic light menus ordering healthier options.
As the study showed, this can work two ways: If your friends are ordering higher-calorie items or spending more money, then you’ll be happier if you’re ordering those same foods and spending more money. If you’re initially less-than-pleased with a salad, you may feel better about it if a friend orders a similar item.
I’ve seen this trend in my own experiences dining out. If I’m wavering between ordering a healthy dish and a not-so-healthy one, I’m much more likely to land on the healthier end of the spectrum if others are ordering healthy foods. If others are all about the fettuccine Alfredo, I’m much more likely to splurge because everyone else is splurging, too. Eating with friends doesn’t just influence your choices and satisfaction, either. Research has also shown that people tend to eat more when they’re eating with other people compared to dining alone; those in pairs and groups of four ate more than did those who dined solo. You’re even more likely to eat dessert when you’re not alone!
But don’t let all of the research stop you from ever eating with friends again, particularly because of the effects other healthy eaters can have on you. Not only can friends persuade you to eat a healthier item as the research showed, but friends are great for introducing us to things we may not discover on our own. After all, wasn’t it a friend who insisted you watch that new show you’re now obsessing over? So let friends influence you to try new, healthy things, too. And to avoid unhealthy choices, scope out restaurant menus before you head there and decide on your order before you’re in the festive group atmosphere. That way, you can settle on the healthy meal you want without being swayed by the group influence. And hey, if other people start ordering the salads, too, the research shows that everyone will be pleased with the meal!
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