Why do we eat more when we’re with other people?

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Do you keep track of your eating habits when you’re eating with others? If you find that you consume much more when you’re dining socially with your friends and family than you usually would when you eat alone, you’re not the only one. Studies have shown that many people tend to eat more when they eat with other people.

A lot of socialising takes place over food, whether it be catching up with your girlfriends at brunch, going on a romantic first date to dinner, or celebrating the holidays with your family over a big feast. In many cases, enjoying someone’s company goes hand in hand with enjoying delicious food.

Studies over the years have found that those eating with others tend to eat up to 48% more food than they would if they were dining solo.

Why does this happen? After reviewing the many studies that have investigated this phenomenon over the years, researchers from the University of Birmingham have a number of theories as to why this might be the case.

It could be because eating with others is more enjoyable than eating alone, so the reward you feel from eating with company drives you to consume more and more. It might also be from social pressure. It’s more acceptable to eat and enjoy large quantities of food when you’re with other people than it is when you’re alone. Providing food to others can also provoke praise from your friends and family, which might encourage having larger quantities of food around when eating with groups of people.

On the flip side, some people tend to under eat when they’re in company with people they are not so familiar with. The way we want to portray ourselves to others might have something to do with this. People want to be liked by others and want to convey a good impression of themselves to other people. Eating little might be seen as a way to do this, which might be why you’d eat less than you usually would around strangers. Some people might also feel uncomfortable eating as much as they usually would in the fear of being judged for overeating by people they don’t know well.

These eating habits could stem from the way our ancestors lived. Our ancestors ate together because it protected against food insecurity – a survival mechanism that might still be with us today. Once upon a time when humans were hunter gatherers and food was harder to come by, hunting and eating in groups was more efficient than eating alone. However, eating more than the others in your group could have also led to ostracism, which would have threatened your survival. These behaviours in our ancestors could explain why today some people enjoy the experience of eating more with our family and friends, but also why others could refrain from eating too much around strangers.

5 Responses to “Why do we eat more when we’re with other people?”

  1. kwijethilake says:

    I do find that sometimes I eat less too! But that’s usually because it’s with someone I’m not as familiar with and I’m more involved in the social aspect of the meeting rather than the eating. But I agree, I’ll definitely eat more than I should if I have an inkling the other person would be offended if I didn’t finish everything!

  2. huanzh1 says:

    Your title caught my attention. After reading your post, maybe I should eat alone more than eating with friends,lol.

  3. Sreya Lodh says:

    A great read! This was really insightful. I didn’t realise that there was an evolutionary association between our group eating habits! It’s crazy to think that our primal instincts as humans still pop up in day-to-day activities now.

  4. Mei says:

    This is a quite interesting article and easy to follow! I can’t agree more with this eating theory as myself is like this as well. I can eat more than normal when I’m with friends and less with strangers or friends I just meet.
    One thing that can be improved would be reference. For example, there can be links for ‘studies and research’ in the article.

  5. tinad says:

    Interesting. I didn’t know people usually eat more when they are with others since I usually have the opposite problem. Or more accurately I eat my normal amount which isn’t much. Nevertheless, I do notice that when I eat with others I feel especially worse if I leave food uneaten. So this could potentially be another reason.