How Family Influence Eating Habits

Family Influence Eating Habits

13 February 2014

Written by Jennie Bayliss

Perhaps unknowingly, your family influence eating habits. I have a memory from early childhood of being told to eat every thing on my plate. I was told to be both grateful and not wasteful for children in Biafra were starving. At the time I didn’t understand where these children lived or even how my eating helped them (to be honest the logic still eludes me) but none-the-less I obediently ate everything on my plate. Children who experienced war-time rations and those of my generation will have had similar messages drummed into them, and so even today I feel somewhat uncomfortable when I leave uneaten food on my plate. What messages did your family give you that still influence your eating habits today?

John de Castro, a psychology professor in Georgia, USA has done extensive research that shows that we eat far more food when we eat with other people. Eat a meal with one other person, and your food intake increases by 35%. With every extra person who joins your table, the more food you will eat. With remarkable consistency you will eat an extra 47%, 58%, 69%, 70%, 72% and 96% when you eat with two, three, four, five, six or seven or more people. No wonder we eat until we feel like stuffed turkeys at Christmas time! It also explains why people newly in coupledom, often put on weight. Why does this happen? There are many reasons, but two key ones are: When we eat in a group, subconsciously we will match our intake to that of others around us. And, by being engrossed in the conversation(s) and the social interactions, we are far less aware of what and how much we are eating (and drinking) and therefore we usually end up eating more.


Eating with family and friends is truly a delight. However, so eating with them doesn’t end up with you piling on the pounds, consider these ideas to help you change the influence others have on your eating.

  • Score out of ten your physical hunger before you begin to eat. A score of 10 = stuffed (this score is generally reached on special occasions like Christmas) and 0 = ravenous.
  • Ideally only eat when your hunger score is 4 or less.
  • Based on your hunger score and BEFORE you begin to eat, choose visually how much food is enough to ‘fill’ you and then put that amount on to your plate. We really eat with our eyes. See my blog: We eat with our eyes—and they deceive us!
  • Remember it takes 20 minutes for your ‘full’ signal to reach your brain.
  • Choose not to accept ‘seconds’ with a smile.

When eating in a restaurant, if a larger portion is served than you know will satisfy your hunger, mentally decide to leave a certain portion of your food on your plate (not always easy if you have been drilled with the idea of cleaning your plate, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes).

When engrossed in a conversation, don’t simply ‘rest’ your knife and fork in your hands, instead actually put them down. When there is a real pause in the conversation, look at the remaining food on your plate before picking up your knife and fork to once more step into conscious eating.

All of these little tips can help you, but it usually helps to focus on one or two of these first and get them embedded into your new way of eating before you move onto the next.

Eat Well—Be Well 🙂

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