Why You Always Overeat at Holiday Parties, According to Science

Dacy Knight

When attending holiday parties that boast bountiful buffets or waiters circling endlessly with tantalizing hors d'oeuvres, do you sometimes find yourself eating far beyond fullness just because the food is there? Overeating at social gatherings is a common dilemma, and a recent study published in Frontiers in Nutrition and conducted by the Cornell Food and Brand Lab gives it a scientific explanation.

Researchers recruited college students to participate in a competitive chicken wing eating challenge—with one group competing in front of cheering spectators and the other with no spectators at all. To little surprise, the men who ate in front of spectators ate 30% more and described the experience as challenging. When eating socially, one might subconsciously try to keep up with those around them, going back for seconds when a first helping would have sufficed.

Luckily, women seem to be less susceptible to this phenomenon. The study's findings suggest that women do not react to the same social stimuli, even eating less with spectators (though downing chicken wings in front of a cheering audience is quite different than making another pass through the buffet).

The study's lead author, Brian Wansink, Ph.D., Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, author of Slim by Designadvises combating this tendency to overeat in social settings by focusing "on your friends and not the food." He notes how these findings have obvious implications in social gatherings where food takes center stage, meaning the holidays can be an especially precarious time.

If festivities with plenty of food are on your agenda and you want to stay mindful about healthy eating, head here to read how nutritionists eat at holiday parties.

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