“What’s the matter? You’re not eating?!”
I hate when I get hit with that question. It feels almost like a verbal assault, designed to guilt me into gorging. I usually respond with a polite, vague, “Thanks, but I just ate.” Or, “Thanks, but no.”
Truth is, I try to avoid social situations that revolve around eating. Whether it’s a party with endless spreads, birthday cake at work, or happy hour hors d’oeurvre hookups, I’ve always found food-focused socializing to be a recipe for discomfort. If I eat, I eat too much and feel uncomfortable later. And if I don’t eat I feel drenched in disapproval.
Apparently, it isn’t just my problem. According to a recent study conducted at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and other universities, people who scored highly on measures of being very concerned with pleasing others, winning approval, and maintaining harmonious relationships, were more likely to eat in a social context, regardless of hunger, especially if they felt their companion wanted them to eat.
Previous studies have shown that people who restrict their eating behavior in social situations may be perceived as having more self-control, and also as more antisocial and threatening. So the researchers speculated that people with a strong need to fit in and keep their companions happy might be motivated more by that need than the physical need to eat.
Eating to please others may have a high emotional, and weighty, price. When asked how they felt after a situation where they gave in to social pressure to eat, the people-pleasers reported not being happy with that choice afterward.
In a related study, published in February 2012 in the online journal PLoS One, researchers in the Netherlands observed the behavior of 70 pairs of young women eating together and found that the women mimicked the speed at which their companion ate, especially in the beginning. Bite for bite, they unconsciously kept pace with their dining partner. Not a good thing, if you’re trying to slow down to help prevent overeating.
So, armed with this knowledge, I’ll continue to avoid social feeding frenzies when possible, and try to be very aware of guilt-induced gorging pressures when I can’t. And I’ll still give the same type of polite, but vague, response when confronted with that slightly disapproving “What’s the matter? You’re not eating?”
Thanks Mom, but I’m not really hungry.
People-pleasing through eating: Sociotropy predicts greater eating in
response to perceived social pressure. [Journal of Social and Clinical
Mimicry of Food Intake: The Dynamic Interplay between Eating
Companions [PloS One]