Research has found that people underestimate how fattening food is when sharing a meal or snack with others.
Boarders find the food less fatty when they share it because they do not feel like “owning” the food.
This perceived lack of ownership when sharing food means that people “mentally separate calories from their consequences,” Canadian researchers suggested.
Research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology also found that the loss of this judgment about how fatty food is when sharing causes diners to want to eat more because they considered it “free.”
For diners, food seems less greasy when shared, because they do not feel they “own” the food.
Researchers Nükhet Taylor and Theodore Noseworthy said their findings suggest that sharing snacks or small plates in restaurants with family and friends may actually encourage “excessive calorie intake” by leading people to underestimate how fatty the food is.
Dr. Taylor told The Times: “When we see food on a common plate, we still understand how many calories we consume, but we don’t think those calories will affect our waistline.
“In other words, because a shared plate does not belong to us, it is a common plate shared with someone else, we believe that whatever we eat from this plate will not affect our weight.
“It simply came to our notice then that we wanted to eat more because it had no effect on our food consumption.
“We’ve found that this intuition can be quite problematic for weight control because we consume more calories as we share food with others.”
Researchers believe that the perceived lack of ownership of shared food makes calories insignificant, probably due to what is known as “mental accounting” – a process that allows consumers to use mental accounts to track cash expenditures and caloric budgets.
They believe that consumers may not include the calories they have consumed from sharing food in their caloric budgets because they believe that these calories do not belong to them.
Research has found that people underestimate how fattening food is when sharing a meal or snack with others (image in file)
Taylor and Noseworthy conducted three experiments with 719 people in their study.
In one experiment, people found that chips shared with a friend from a single plate were 15 percent less fat than the same number of chips on separate plates.
When they dined alone, they found that the chips were 18 percent less fat, despite the fact that the calories were exactly the same.
Even with healthy snacks, the same amount of almonds was perceived as 22 percent less fat when shared with a friend than when they dine alone.
Participants in the experiment also received M & M’s chocolates, which they found 20 percent less fattening when they ate from a shared bowl than when they ate alone.
This meant that for both healthy and unhealthy snacks, sharing reduced the perceived weight gain of food.
“This suggests that sharing reduces perceived ownership, and this reduces the judgment of fattening both healthy and unhealthy foods,” the researchers wrote in the study.
“Rather than an incentive mechanism that depends solely on junk food, sharing seems to be causing a general bias. Importantly, these results were made in the presence of explicit caloric information. “
In the final experiment, participants had to imagine that they were in McDonald’s and eating a shared box of Chicken McNuggets that belonged to them or their friend.
After eating the nuggets, they were asked to choose between dessert apple slices, a low-calorie variant, or an ice cream cup, a high-calorie variant.
Those who imagined eating their friend’s nuggets were 13 percent more likely to choose a cup as a dessert than those who imagined eating their own nuggets.
“Our findings suggest that food sharing may encourage excessive caloric intake by leading consumers to underestimate the potential for fatigue caused by shared food consumption,” the study concluded.