On Tuesday’s Biggest Loser the contestants got a chance to go home to see their families. I always find this a very compelling episode. Seeing the players’ real lives in context, it really drives home how much of a challenge they are up against. Several of the contestants have other family members who are overweight as well, and when the contestants return home for good, the question will be: will these relatives make some changes or will they impact the behavior of the contestants?

It reminded me of a study from a book I am now “listening” to called Mindless Eating by Brain Wansink. The study basically showed that when people eat alone, they fall into two groups: Lighter eaters and heavier eaters. When the people in the studies ate in groups of 4 or more people, lighter eaters tended to eat more and heavier eaters tended to eat less. When eating in groups, there appears to be a norm that emerges, so the average amount that others eat can influence how much you will eat.

If you are a light eater when you eat alone, you may eat more when eating in a group. If you are a heavier eating when eating alone, you may actually eat less when eating with a group.

Wansink goes on to say that if you know what type of eater you are, you can plan accordingly. If you will eat more by yourself, then eat with a group (preferably a group of healthy eaters). If you are a light eater usually, then its best to eat alone rather than be influenced by a group excited to go and get a big meal.

He also says that dining with slower eaters can help you pace yourself, while dining with fast eaters can cause you to speed up your own pace. If you are trying to lose weight, its best to stick with the slower eaters.

As the Biggest Loser showed, it took Mike and Ron probably every last drop of their willpower to not eat pizza! Unfortunately, willpower does not always cut it when it comes to losing weight. There are plenty of “tricks” you can play with yourself to avoid having to use white-knuckled willpower to attain your goals.

The Bottom Line:

If you are trying to lose weight, pay attention to your individual eating style. If you can avoid social situations where you know temptation will be great, it’s probably best to do that (at least until you reach your goals). If you know that a particular group of people will influence you to eat healthfully, seek them out.

There are more of Wansink’s tips for making eating a mindful process in this Newseek article. There is also a great site which touches on lots his research at the Cornell University Food & Brand Lab, especially the Tip Sheet.

Let me know if you have any tricks you use to avoid dieting pitfalls. I personally subscribe to the “out of sight, out of mind” regimen of putting foods that could be potential triggers, like my daughter’s school snacks, out of my line of sight.