Social eating: what it is and how it affects your daily life

By Carrie Lynch

Large cheese pizza after a night out? Absolutely.

Large cheese pizza after the gym? Maybe not.

Experts say how much we eat can be affected by the setting we are in and who we are with.

“Some people consume more calories than their bodies need when eating out if they are not paying attention to and honoring their hunger and fullness cues,” said Karen Giles-Smith, a nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders, disordered eating, food nd weight concerns, and family feeding issues.

What is it?

Social eating can be described as the consumption of calories in a social setting whether or not one planned to eat. Adding alcohol to the mix does not help either. Alcohol tends to makes people lose their inhibitions, as well as their self control, causing them to more likely give in to their temptations.

Nutritionist Amy Due explains that to most people eating is a social activity.

“It might be the way one is brought up,” Due said. “For instance, you had a good dance recital, report card, basketball game so let’s go celebrate by getting ice cream or going out to dinner.

“Social activities centering around food to help cheer someone up may also be a factor,” she said. “‘ you didn’t get the job? No worries. Let’s go to dinner to make you feel better.’ Or even, ‘You just broke up with your boyfriend or girlfriend, so let’s go get hot fudge sundaes and eat potato chips.’”

How does it affect us?

Both sexes are affected by social eating differently. According to an experiment done by Cornell University, men are more likely to eat more in front of women versus eating just with other men. After observing 105 adults lunching at an all-you-can-eat Italian buffet for two weeks, the researchers concluded that men who dined with at least one woman ate 92 percent more pizza and 86 percent more salad than men who dined with only other men. Because men consumed less food around men, the researchers concluded that eating is a competition, and eating more in front of women shows that men have more power. Men like to show dominance, and according to this study eating more than the women they are with helps them do that.

The women in the study, on the other hand, did not eat more in the company of a man. Although, a study done by Indiana University’s School of Medicine’s Department of Medicine and Neurology found that after consuming alcohol women will eat much more than they normally would. The study “The Apéritif Effect: Alcohol’s effects on the brain’s response to food aromas in women,” examined what women would eat for lunch when they were sober as opposed to when they were intoxicated. The study found the intoxicated women ate a significant amount more food than those who weren’t.

Hayley Fettig, a senior at Michigan State University, said she is guilty of social eating at least once a week. She believes she consumes a lot more calories when she is out to dinner as opposed to when she cooks for herself.

“Whether I am drinking or not, I still view my night out at a restaurant or party as a cheat night, ” she said. “And when I come home from a night of drinking the first place I head to is the kitchen.”

She considers a “cheat night” a night where she doesn’t count calories and does not try to find the healthy item on the menu.

“Although I enjoy cooking for myself, going out to eat with friends is one of my favorite things to do,” she said. “I like to have company and to socialize while I eat.”

How do we control it?

Self-control is hard. One crucial tip when trying to control yourself around an abundance of food is preparation.

“At events with food, surveying the food offerings, taking a moment to decide what you have a taste for and what you think would be most satisfying, then choosing or serving yourself those items in amounts you think you’re hungry for, sitting down to eat, and eating mindfully,” said Giles-Smith, the nutritionist.

When you know you have an event later in the day full of temptations, Giles-Smith said it is important to set yourself up for success by eating throughout the day so you are not too hungry at the event.

“Eating high fiber foods throughout the day helps one to feel full longer,” she said. “Such as whole wheat items, fresh fruits and veggies, whole grain, rye.”

Michael Shook started living alone in his last year of college. He definitely sees a difference in his eating habits once he lived without roommates.

“You don’t have anyone constantly asking you to get food, or a partner in crime when you need drunk food,” he said. “The food in my apartment is only my food, so I get to control what I am eating.”

Because he eats healthy and works out a lot, Shook allows himself to cheat occasionally at parties.

“Family parties are ridiculous,” he said. “Food is surrounding me and I do not have any self control. I look forward to eating copious amounts because I feel as if I deserve it.”

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