A woman’s choice of food is influenced by the gender of her dining companions, according to a study published in the journal Appetite. Meredith Young, a psychologist at McMaster University in Canada, lead a team observing 469 students as they ate in university cafes. She found that the more men a woman dined with, the lower her calorie consumption was.
Two women eating together consumed an average of 665 calories each, but for a male and female pair the woman opted for just over 550 calories. When women dined in larger groups without men, their calorie consumption edged higher to almost 800. Men seem to eat the same amount regardless of their dining partners; a little over 715 calories on average.
Mealtimes are often a social occasion, and the paper suggests that women may feel they need to conform to social norms when eating. Women are targeted by the diet industry to make them think smaller, healthier portions are more feminine. Eating less could be an attempt to appear more attractive to male companions. The effect is not present in men because male sex appeal is not as dependant on physical attractiveness.
Young and colleagues warn that these results may only apply to university students, who are perhaps particularly concerned about their appearance and believe eating less will make them more attractive. Further studies in other natural environments could confirm the effect. They also suggest investigating whether men eat more expensive food when with women, because male attractiveness is more strongly influenced by social status and wealth.
Young, M., Mizzau, M., Mai, N., Sirisegaram, A., & Wilson, M. (2009). Food for thought. What you eat depends on your sex and eating companions Appetite DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2009.07.021