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Eat Better With Different People

Who’s watching you eat can influence your choices.

Candy and raisins to represent being with different people to eat better

Here’s a novel way to eat better: Dine with those different from you. People are less likely to choose an unhealthy food option when eating among people from a different social group. This is the conclusion of a study in Psychology & Marketing that looked at habits of about 1,000 American students.

The researchers found that participants were more likely to choose a healthy snack in the presence of an observer of a different social category. (They noted, as well, that people often self-categorize in terms of their race, university affiliation and work affiliation.)

They determined the behavior to be because participants anticipated more negative judgment from strangers of an outsider group than from strangers from a familiar group, such as someone attending their university. Participants attempted to mitigate harsh judgments and eat better by making healthier food choices. For instance, 180 students were offered the choice between raisins and M&M’s candies as a snack. When in the presence of an unknown fellow student from their own university, only 12% of students selected the healthier dried fruit. However, this number more than doubled to 31% when the participant was in the presence of an unfamiliar student from a separate university. 

See also: Yes, You Can Develop Better Eating Habits

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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