Don't dine with your greedy friend say experts, you're likely to eat just as much as they are

Mirror eating: Recent research has shown that women in particular copy the eating habits of their companions (Posed by models)

Mirror eating: Recent research has shown that women in particular copy the eating habits of their companions (Posed by models)

If you're struggling to lose weight, here’s one thing you can cut out.

Greedy friends.

Scientists say the amount we eat is not just about the food on the plate but who you are eating it with.

Women who dine with a companion are likely to eat a similar amount and at the same pace as they do, a study by Dutch researchers found.

They filmed 70 pairs of normal-weight young women – a participant and an actor – sitting down for a meal together.

Each was served the same dinner with a jug of water and told to eat as much or as little as they liked.

They
found the participants immediately began copying each other in the
number and timing of their mouthfuls – taking a bite within five seconds
of the other person taking one.

Women
were three times more likely to do this at the beginning of the
meeting, a sign they were trying to cement their relationship or win the
esteem of a new acquaintance.

Lead author Roel Hermans of Radboud
University in the Netherlands said the findings built on previous
research showing women use other people as their model for ‘appropriate’
eating.

It is unclear
whether this was a conscious move not to appear to be overindulging, or
something they do without realising. He said it probably depends on
their personality.

‘We found a really strong correlation
between how many bites the young women took. When the other person ate a
lot they also did, and when the other person ate less they followed
them too’, Mr Hermans said.

‘The women were adjusting their
eating pattern to the others especially at the start of the meal when
they wanted to get along with each other and maintain a positive social
relationship.’

All the
actresses were instructed to eat a specific amount of food between 125g
and 750g and not to mention the food at all during the meal.

The
authors concede more work is needed to see whether the mimicking effect
is stronger or weaker for a family member or friend compared with a new
acquaintance, and the part played by conversation.

People
mimic other traits of those they interact with, including their
postures, gestures, mannerisms, and accent as well as eating.

The
scientists say their findings not only have implications for dieters
but for parents and teachers trying to get children to eat healthily.

Mr
Hermans said previous research suggests men also copy each other’s
eating to an extent, but are less concerned about the social norms
surrounding food. They have been shown to follow the pace of others when
drinking alcohol.

The
authors wrote in the journal PLoS ONE: ‘ As long as such important
influences on intake are not wholeheartedly acknowledged, it will be
difficult to make healthy food choices and maintain a healthy diet,
[when] people are often exposed to the eating behaviour of others.’