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Dining With Friends: A Weighty Issue

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Here's a fact I'm not proud of: I've gained about 10 pounds in the last year. There, I said it.

I attribute this to two things: Getting married and making friends. Obviously it's more complicated than that. Marriage and friendship don't actually cause weight gain. But a skipped session (or five) on the treadmill because I don't have a wedding to prep for, does. As does the extra donut, glass of wine, or shrimp tempura that comes with friend dating.

If there's a down side to making new pals, this is it.

"If you dine with one other person you will eat about 35 percent more than if you were alone," Brian Wansink, author of "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think" wrote on msnbc.com. "If you eat with a party of seven or more, you will gobble up 96 percent more, or nearly twice as much. ... And if you get a table for four, you will end up right in the middle, eating about 75 percent more calories than if you dined alone."

I hate being the party pooper who declines birthday cake or beer, but when it comes to eating out with friends (be they the old or potential variety) harder than saying no is dealing with the annoyed glances or "come on, have just one" comments from fellow diners. I know, rationally, that I should say "screw 'em," but it's never fun to feel like you're being judged. People don't seem to like going out with someone who eats healthy--it's an unwelcome reminder when the girl across the table resists the french fries. And when a new friend says, "We must order the mayo-soaked lobster covered in cheese and onion rings, it's the specialty!" I feel like I can't say no. So I don't.

Or, didn't. I've gotten back on track recently, but it's not easy. What do we do with new friends? Go to dinner. Grab drinks. Thank god most of my girl dates are one-on-one. If I had pizza parties too often, I'd be a balloon.

Wansink says part of the problem is that friends enjoy each other's company so much that we spend more time at the table. The longer we sit with a plate of pasta--or basket of bread, or bowl of ice cream--the more we'll eat.

Wansink's got tips for resolving food with friends:

  1. Only eat out with healthy eaters. (Not so easy when I haven't met the person yet.)
  2. Sit next to slow eaters who will pace your intake. (See previous.)
  3. Follow a rule of two: Aside from your entrée, allow yourself only two items--bread and a glass of wine, app and dessert, whatever. But only two. (Manageable.)

Do you eat more when you're with friends? What do you think of these tips? Have any of your own?