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Smallest salad wins in friendly food battle

Smallest salad wins in friendly food battle
Dinner among female friends can often play out like a game of Texas Hold'em. One woman places an order — grilled chicken salad, dressing on the side. There is a pause. All eyes shift to the woman next to her, suspense building as she carefully weighs her next move. Will she see her? Will she raise her? Another grilled chicken salad it is! And so it goes around the rest of the table until it's clear they are four of a kind.

A group of women ordering the same meal seems innocent enough — unremarkable, even — but there's often something far more complicated lurking beneath the surface. "Women are amazingly accurate at knowing how much other women around them eat," says Patricia Pliner, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto at Mississauga. "Whether their friends polish off their plates has a powerful effect on what they eat." This need to consume no less or no more than the next girl is almost visceral — and many who experience it would sooner admit to a cocaine habit than a competitive-eating one.

As with many female insecurities, cultural standards are at least partly to blame. Eating a lot alone is one thing, but doing so in public, in the presence of thin friends, can make you feel as if you've fallen down on the job of being an American woman, somehow punking out on the part of the social contract that suggests dieting makes you ladylike. One of Pliner's studies actually proved this: Test subjects read phony food diaries — some depicted women who ate small meals, while others were about women who ate larger meals. The small eaters were perceived to be more feminine, more concerned about appearance, and better-looking than the larger eaters.
Published by Kristine on Apr 12, 2008

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