You’re invited to eat lunch in a room with one other person in it. That person has been told by researchers what and how much to eat, but you don’t know this. At the end of the meal, you’re asked this question: “Why did you choose to eat as much as you did?” If your answer is “I ate what I wanted to” or “I ate until I felt full,” then you’re not as intuitive as you think you are.
“Our study participants assume that they eat out of free will,” says Professor Sarah-Jeanne Salvy, a research associate professor at the University of Southern California. “They don’t realise they’re influenced by what other people eat.”
Other social, environmental and societal cues also prod you to eat more. Part of the reason you’re susceptible, explains Salvy, is that you can conform socially and convey your self-image through your eating habits. This plays out subconsciously 24/7 and can influence almost every food decision you make. “When you’re on auto pilot and eat mindlessly, it’s dangerous,” says Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University who researches weight loss. Here’s how to maintain control at every meal.