Eating with Fat Friends Is Making You Fat

Researchers at Cornell University have conducted a study that suggests physically fit people change their eating habits when dining with overweight friends. But I've got news for this scientific study: "never trust a skinny chef."

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Oct 9 2014, 7:55pm

Science has done the world yet another great service by bringing it to our attention that overweight people make us want to eat more food. Thanks, science.

In a recent study, researchers at Cornell University aimed to find out whether physically fit people change their eating habits when dining with someone who is overweight, as opposed to another person who is physically in good health. They took a cue from Hollywood and put an actress in a fat suit, and then then recruited 82 undergraduate students to eat a pasta and salad lunch. The students were separated into four groups, each of which was given different dining scenarios with the actress. In one scenario, the "fat" actress served herself more salad than pasta. Then she did the same thing, minus the fat suit. Finally, she repeated the two scenarios—in and out of a fat suit—but instead of eating more salad than pasta, she did the American thing and ate more pasta than salad.

As it turns out, when the actress wore the fat suit, the thin dinners chose larger and unhealthier portions of food. When she was not in her costume, diners miserably ate more salad. Cornell's Food and Brand Lab wrote, "Researchers found that when the actress wore the prosthesis, and appeared overweight, the other participants served and ate 31.6 percent more pasta regardless of whether she served herself mostly pasta or mostly salad. When she wore the prosthesis and served herself more salad, the other participants actually served and ate 43.5 percent less salad."

As an overweight person myself, what I really want to say about all this is: You're welcome. The study, however, makes it seem as though over-indulging on your deliciously unhealthy meals is a bad thing. Damn.

I spoke with one of the lead researchers in the study, Mitsuru Shimizu, who assured me this finding is not meant to fat-shame bigger people. "Overweight people may send people around a hidden message that makes them eat unhealthier," he said. "But please make sure the study should not sound like [it's] anti-overweight people." Shimizu and his team just want to spread the word so that people can be aware of what their minds are doing, and commit to healthier food portions and options. Shimizu urges people to know what they are going to eat before they enter a dining establishment. That way, no matter who you are dining with, you can have a guilt-free, if joyless, meal.

This fat-suit study only sought to find out how average-sized people react to eating with overweight people. There were no suggestions about how overweight people might change their eating habits when dining with other overweight people. Shimizu did specify, however, that when dining with an obese person, the conclusion might be different. "If the eating companion was obese rather than overweight, the results might be the opposite—eating smaller amounts of pasta and larger amounts of salad—because the obese eating companion actually activates our goal to eat healthier."

Look, I don't mean to undermine this study. Not in the least. But I do want to point out that I am a bit skeptical as to how it was conducted. They tested this theory out on undergraduate college students; a sad bunch of people who have not had a home-cooked meal in years. The closest thing to cooking that they do is microwaving Hot Pockets. This is a demographic of people who can't really afford to eat healthily thanks to their high tuition costs, and will definitely eat as many free carbs as possible because that is most likely their only real meal for the week.

Well, it's too late to go back now. The results are out, and the world knows: Eating with overweight people will make you less healthy. As much as Shimizu and his team want to clarify that this study is not "anti-overweight people," there is still something about the findings that leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Then again, that could just be the lemon tart I ate for breakfast.

Fat people, don't feel guilty about this. Don't stop yourselves from dining out with thin friends. In fact, your friends should be grateful. Food should not feel like a chore, especially if you're eating out at a restaurant. Why would you spend your hard-earned money on food you don't even like? Let's face it: No matter how great a salad is, it doesn't beat spaghetti with meatballs. Overweight friends, you are making things right.

I feel the need to remind people about that old axiom: "Never trust a skinny chef." There's a reason this saying is on millions of refrigerator magnets inside grandmothers' houses all over the world. Fat chefs love food. Skinny chefs do too, sure, but with a fat chef, you can't help but feel that taste is truly the most important element of that meal. Yes, we should all be healthy, duh. But if you've had a great month of keeping to your spinach-smoothie diet and are looking to eat a truly great meal without caring the least bit about fat or caloric content, would you rather have that incredible meal cooked by a skinny or a fat chef? I think that, perhaps in the same way that this study implies thin people overeat around overweight people, fat chefs have a similar effect on the way food tastes.

Cornell, can you conduct this study next?