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Women: Want to lose weight? Invite a man to lunch

I’m having lunch with a group of friends today. Good thing—for my waistline at least—that a few men are among the group.

For, according to a new study from researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, we women order smaller and lower-calorie meals when dining with men than we do when dining only with our female friends.

And the more men present, the fewer the calories.

No such effect was seen among men. In fact, the study, which was published last week in the journal Appetite, found that men consumed more calories when their lunch or dinner partner was a woman rather than a man, although not significantly so.

Why are women so reluctant to chow down in front of men? You can probably guess. As the authors of this study point out, research has shown that people (or, at least, North Americans) tend to judge others by what they (supposedly) eat, and women are “deemed more attractive and more feminine when portrayed as eating fewer calories.”

Of course, the McMaster study observed students in a university cafeteria, and what they do to impress each other may have nothing to do with the rest of us. Indeed, because the students were eating among relatively unfamiliar people, they may have been more inclined to engage in “impression management” (as the McMaster researchers so arcanely put it).

Among different male companions, however, the young women might have opted for, say, a burger and fries over that goat-cheese salad. Other studies—ones in which people keep personal food diaries—have found that men and women alike pile more food on their plates when they’re with their spouses, relatives or friends of either gender than when they dine alone.

I’m glad, then, I’m having lunch with friends today. I’m hungry.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 08/09/2009 - 12:34 am.

    Good article. In the dating game “high maintenance, high cost”. Restaurants are rather pricey.

  2. Submitted by Katherine Werner on 08/10/2009 - 06:15 pm.

    Good thing I can buy my own lunch.

  3. Submitted by Jennifer Tuder on 08/11/2009 - 10:31 am.

    I’m not quite sure why Ms. Perry has dubbed “impression management” an “arcane” term. It’s actually a really useful concept from early 20th century sociologist Erving Goffman that helps describe the phenomenon in the study: people will enact behaviors that help them create and maintain a favorable image for others. It’s a concept that most introductory communication courses include and so the “arcane” comment seems strangely disdainful to me. I hope that I am misreading this since I so enjoy Ms. Perry’s columns and find her insights instructive.

  4. Submitted by Susan Perry on 08/11/2009 - 11:46 am.

    Jennifer:

    I didn’t mean to offend anybody, much less sociologists, for whom I have great respect. I was just trying to play with language, and was using “arcane” in the sense of “known or understood by only a few” (American Heritage Dictionary). I think you’d agree that the general public isn’t familiar with sociology jargon–and that “impression management” is a meaningless phrase to most people.

    Thanks for commenting–and for reading the blog.

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