Food is a fraught thing. What people eat, when they eat it, how much they eat—all of it is subject to scrutiny, both social and scientific. Little wonder, then, that who people eat with seems to influence what they eat. And adding gender to the mix just makes it worse.
There’s a whole body of research suggesting that in cultures where female thinness is prized, disordered eating among women can be at least partially attributed to competition for mates. Some studies say that women may eat less in front of men to, I guess, signal their commitment to having a desirably shaped body.
Researchers at Cornell University wanted to see if the reverse was true—if men’s eating habits would be different in front of women. So, naturally, they staked out an all-you-can-eat pizza place. There they watched people chow down on pizza and salad, then sneakily measured and subtracted their uneaten food out of view of the customers. It turns out that for men, “all they could eat” was more when they were eating with women than when they were eating with other men. Like, a lot more. We’re talking 93 percent more pizza and 86 percent more salad. (Which, at least they had some salad?)
From an evolutionary-psychology perspective, the researchers suggested that men might have been packing it away in order to impress the women they were with. “Our observation of men ‘eating heavily’ is sensibly viewed in an evolutionary perspective as men ‘showing off,’” the study reads.