Ladies, how many times have we watched, our mouths agape, as our male companions hork down an extra large cheese pizza with a side of garlic knots? How can you eat all that, we may ask, adding, I wish I had your metabolism. We likely assume our male friends eat so much because they are unaware of their fellow diners and the possible judgement of our increasingly food-shaming culture. But a new study suggests that males eat so much not because they are unaware of our presence, but precisely because they are aware.
Cornell University researchers have found that men tend to eat significantly more — almost double — when in the presence of women. This excessive eating may be “motivated by a hard-wired male urge to demonstrate prowess,” according to the study’s lead author Kevin Kniffin. And we thought men were more interested in comparing the size of their other extremities, not their stomachs.
The study, published in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science, observed diners at an all-you-can eat Italian buffet. Men who were dining with at least one woman consumed 93% more pizza (the equivalent of 1.44 more slices) and 86% more salad than those who were exclusively in the company of other men.
Comments Kniffin: “The findings suggest that men tend to overeat to show off. Instead of a feat of strength, it’s a feat of eating.”
The study’s authors theorize that this overconsumption may be an unconscious way for men to signal their biological fitness. Of course, this kind of behavior doesn’t make much sense in our modern day society obsessed with fit — and usually thin — bodies.
While there’s been a great deal of research in sexual selection’s role in eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia among women (with the prevailing belief that males tend to prefer mates who are slim), there’s been significantly less research on disordered eating. Hopefully this study is just the beginning in research regarding gender politics and food. After all, I know that I, personally, on first dates am always afraid to eat more than a light salad or fish dish, fearful that the man will find me disgusting if I order as much as him. But is this a rational fear? Of course not.
The Cornell University study adds, “Analogous to the view that women ‘eat lightly’ in order to respond to men’s mating preferences, the intersexual or mate-choice hypothesis that we test presumes that men ‘eat heavily’ in response to women’s mating preferences.” Apparently men, whether they are aware of this or not, subconsciously believe that women prefer mates who can eat far more than is healthy.
Of course, if the men had simply asked the women what they thought, they’d have been surprised: The women eating with men reported that they felt rushed during the meal, and often felt that they were the ones who ate too much — even though researchers found there was no evidence the women over-ate. As if eating out isn’t stressful enough, now we have subconscious fears and beliefs to battle, as well! At least there will be no leftovers to fight over.