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Study: eating habits influenced by social groups

Your friends might be throwing off your food choices and making you eat more if they don’t follow healthy eating habits.

A new meta-analysis of 15 different studies was recently published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has found that people are more likely to overindulge in high calorie foods and overeat if they have knowledge of what others are choosing and eating.

The good news is that it works both ways. The analysis showed that if those around you choose to eat low-calorie, healthy foods, or eat less, you will be more likely to follow suit, so a trick to keeping the calories down might be to pick your dinner parties wisely. Eating habits are passed along socially.

The researchers say the effect is a result of fitting into social norms.

“Conforming to informational eating norms may be a way of reinforcing identity to a social group,” said head author Eric Robinson in a press release. “If a person’s sense of self is strongly guided by their identity as a member of their local community and that community is perceived to eat healthily, then that person would be hypothesized to eat healthily in order to maintain a consistent sense of social identity.”

The researchers also noted that even while eating alone you can be influenced by the decisions of others, even if unaware of it. Eating with others regularly who eat healthily and don’t overindulge in high-calorie foods will help make you eat better while alone, because you will believe that is what others expect you to be eating and what you expect others are eating.