Women count their calories when dining with men, but not so when eating with other women, says a new Canadian study.
Research at Canada's McMaster University at Hamilton near Toronto has found that a woman dining with a man will gobble fewer calories than if she dines with another woman.
Researcher Meredith Young says what a person chooses to eat at lunch or dinner is influenced by who they eat with and the gender make-up of the group, a university statement said Wednesday.
Young said her study is based on students in three university cafeterias with a wide choice of food options and dining companions.
She found that a woman who ate with a man chose foods with lower calorific value than a woman who ate with another woman.
The researcher also found that when women ate in mixed-gender groups, they consumed foods with less calories. The more men in the group, the fewer the calories.
But when women ate in all-female groups, their food was significantly higher in calories, Young said.
"Eating is a social activity. In university cafeterias, people select their food before they are seated and perhaps before they know with whom they will eat.
"Given the observed differences it seems likely that social groupings were anticipated at the time of food selection," she said.
Young said calorific intake by women might be influenced the diet industry that targets female consumers and uses advertisements typically depicting very slim models rather than average-sized or overweight female models.
"So food choices appear to be weighed against how others perceive them. In other words, smaller, healthier portions are seen as more feminine, and women might believe that if they eat less they will be considered more attractive to men.
"It is possible that small food portions signal attractiveness, and women conform, whether consciously or unconsciously."
She found that men were not much affected by the number or the gender of their dining companions.
The study appears in the online international journal Appetite.