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"Even if men aren't thinking about it, eating more than a friend tends to be understood as a demonstration of virility and strength."

Gillie Houston
December 08, 2016

The holidays are notoriously known for inspiring overeating. Christmas cookies, holiday hams, and emotional eating after endless questions about your life choices, all of these can cause excessive eating, especially if you are male. 

A new study by the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, which was published in Frontiers in Nutrition, suggests that men are more prone to overeating in social situations—and it's likely their ego is to blame. According to co-author Kevin Kniffin, PhD, the incentive behind this excessive eating is often a natural competitiveness and desire to appear "macho" in front of their male peers.

To test this theory, researchers invited college-aged men and women of similar weights to compete in two different kinds of chicken wing eating challenges: one with an audience of cheering spectators, and one without. While the men competing in front of spectators ate 30 percent more than men in the private competition, the women eating in front of the crowd actually ate less than the women in private. While the women who ate in front of spectators considered the experience embarrassing, the men found it to be "challenging, cool, and exhilarating."

The research suggests that these same mindsets apply to any social gatherings involving food—from an office party with coworkers to a holiday dinner with family. "Even if men aren't thinking about it, eating more than a friend tends to be understood as a demonstration of virility and strength," Kniffin says.

This unconscious competitive male drive to eat more when in presence of others can potentially lead to a few too many return trips to the buffet, and a few extra pounds on the post-holiday scale. Kniffin's recommendation for avoiding overeating? "Focus on your friends and not the food. If you want to prove how macho you are, challenge your friend to a healthy arm wrestle instead of trying to out-eat him." Just as long as the arm wrestling stays off the dinner table, and out of the gravy boat.