Table For One, Please
While meals give us a chance to bond with friends and family, a growing number of studies find that fellow diners may bring more than just a bottle of wine to the table.
Writing in Appetite in 1990, psychologist John de Castro and colleagues found that the more people were present at the table, the more calories diners consumed. Psychologist Patricia Pliner and coauthors, in a 2006 article published in Appetite (“Meal Duration Mediates the Effect of ‘Social Facilitation’ on Eating in Humans”), attribute this change to a “time extension” hypothesis: the more eaters are present, the more we chat, the longer the meal lasts, and the more we eat.
In contrast, solo diners consume fewer calories. One might imagine this is because they spend less time eating, but even those who occupy themselves by reading or working during a solo meal don’t consume more calories.
It turns out that eating with others does more than just lengthen meal times: it leads us to engage in impression management, according to clinical psychologist Sarah-Jeanne Salvy and colleagues in a 2007 article published in Appetite. When we dine with friends and family, we’re more comfortable, so we monitor ourselves less and tend to eat more.
Even if it leads us to eat more, many people still prefer to dine in the company of others. But the next time you ask for a table for one, you can take solace in the fact that it may lead to a slimmer waistline.