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People-Pleasers Eat To Make Others Comfortable In Social Situations: Study

The Huffington Post     Posted: 02/04/2012 7:04 pm EST

Do you hate letting down other people? A new study suggests you may be more apt to overeat in social situations (and yes, that includes Super Bowl parties!).

Case Western Reserve University researchers found that people who want to maintain a sense of "comfortability" in a social atmosphere will eat, whether they're hungry or not -- which can lead to overeating, if others are consuming a lot of food.

"They don't want to rock the boat or upset the sense of social harmony," study researcher Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve, said in a statement.

Exline and her colleagues studied 101 college students in a two-part study; the first part included a questionnaire where researchers determined the participants' people-pleasing characteristics. (People-pleasers were characterized by their worry about hurting other people, tendencies to put others' needs first and sensitivity to criticism.)

Then, the study participants sat down with an actor who was pretending to also be a study participant. The actor was given a bowl of M&Ms and took a small handful of about five candies. Then, the actor handed them to the study participant, who took some candies.

Researchers found that people who scored higher on the people-pleasing characteristics questionnaire also took more of the candies.

"People-pleasers feel more intense pressure to eat when they believe that their eating will help another person feel more comfortable," Exline said in the statement. "Almost everyone has been in a situation in which they've felt this pressure, but people-pleasers seem especially sensitive to it."

The research is published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

Dr. David Katz, HuffPost blogger and director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, told ABC News that this pressure to eat and eat may also be a factor in the obesity epidemic.

"There's no question the way we eat is influenced by others," Katz told ABC News."It's compounded around holidays and big events, but it plays out in lesser ways every day as we interact with our families and people in our workplaces. It's not just Super Bowl Sunday."

For some tips on how to avoid mindless eating, garnered from research and from Cornell University expert Brian Wansink, click through the slideshow:

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  • Use A Bigger Fork

    A study published in the <em>Journal of Consumer Research</em> shows that restaurant-goers who <a href="http://www.jcr-admin.org/files/pressPDFs/071311193612_mishra.pdf" target="_hplink">eat with really big forks</a> (20 percent bigger than a normal fork you'd find at a restaurant) eat less food and leave more on their plates than people who eat with really small forks. A possible explanation for this finding is that when people use small forks to eat, they feel like they are not making any big <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2011/07/15/using-a-big-fork-may-help-you-eat-less/?xid=huffpo-direct" target="_hplink">progress in eating their meal</a> and quelling their hunger pangs, <em>TIME</em> reported. In addition, the restaurant-goers who ate with the smaller forks and were given bigger portions of food at much more food than if they just had the smaller forks or if they just had the bigger portions.

  • Eat From A Smaller Bowl

    Research from the Georgia Institute of Technology shows that people eat 31 percent more ice cream when they eat out of a 34-ounce bowl, rather than 17-ounce one, ScienceDaily reported. Researchers explained that's because people eat about 92 percent of what they serve themselves -- so if you <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060803082602.htm" target="_hplink">serve yourself more, you'll eat more</a>.

  • Get Some Sleep

    Columbia University researchers found that <a href="http://www.thirdage.com/news/sleep-deprivation-may-increase-hunger_3-26-2011" target="_hplink">sleep deprivation can also lead to more calories consumed</a>. They found that women who only got 4 hours sleep the night before ate 329 more calories in a nine-hour period compared with if they weren't sleep deprived, while men ate 263 more calories when <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-michael-j-breus/sleep-more-lose-weight_b_857080.html" target="_hplink">sleep-deprived</a>. "It has an impact on cognitive restraint," study researcher Marie-Pierre St. Onge told ThirdAge. "High-fat food is tempting, and maybe on <a href="http://www.thirdage.com/news/sleep-deprivation-may-increase-hunger_3-26-2011" target="_hplink">short sleep you can't restrain yourself</a> as well, while on full sleep you can resist more easily."

  • Mind Your Environment

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/02/mindless-eating-environment-location_n_945712.html" target="_hplink">WHERE you eat your food</a> could also factor in to how much you eat and whether you're eating food even though you're not hungry, according to research from the University of Southern California. Researchers had movie-goers say whether they were regular popcorn-eaters or not, and then they had them eat either stale popcorn or freshly popped popcorn. The regular popcorn-eaters ate just as much stale popcorn as fresh popcorn, while people who didn't consider themselves regular popcorn-eaters ate significantly less stale popcorn than fresh since it didn't taste as good. "The results show just how <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/02/mindless-eating-environment-location_n_945712.html" target="_hplink">powerful our environment can be</a> in triggering unhealthy behavior," study researcher David Neal said in a statement. "Sometimes willpower and good intentions are not enough, and we need to trick our brains by controlling the environment instead."

  • Hide The Junk Food

    Research from Cornell University shows that we are three times more likely to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/29/see-first-eat-visible-food_n_984004.html" target="_hplink">eat the first thing that we see</a>, compared with the fifth thing we see. In that study, researchers took photographs of 100 kitchen cupboards and asked the owners to keep records of what they ate. Researchers also tried moving the food around in the cupboards to see if that impacted their food choices -- and found that it did. The research shows that "we end up being masters of our own demise, to some extent," study researcher Professor Brian Wansink, Ph.D., author of "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think," told HuffPost.

  • Eat Using Your Non-Dominant Hand

    Research published in the <em>Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin</em> shows that <a href="http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/09/20/overeating-which-hand-are-you-using/" target="_hplink">eating with your non-dominant hand</a> can help you to decrease the amount of food you consume, CNN reported. The finding was part of the same movie-theater/popcorn study, where it was discovered that environment plays a part in mindless eating. Like in that experiment, researchers gave study participants either fresh or stale popcorn. They found that people who used their non-dominant hands and ate the stale popcorn ate 30 percent less than if they used their dominant hands, CNN reported.

  • How to Avoid Mindless Eating

    Food Think with Wansink: Economy-size snacks can cause you to eat more


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