Have you ever found that when you dine with one particular friend you eat more than you do with another? If so there may be a reason. According to a new study from researchers in the Netherlands, when two women are eating together, one tends to mimic the other’s pace.

The scientists gathered video footage of 140 subjects. They asked 70 pairs of women, who did not know each other, to dine together in a lab. Prior to the meal one of the women in each pair was instructed to eat in a specific way (to consume a small, medium, or large amount of her meal), while the other was not instructed at all.

The researchers found that the women who were coached consumed 30 bites on average, while the partners took in roughly 41. And while the mimicry went both ways, the women who weren’t guided prior to the meal mindlessly mimicked three times more. When one women’s fork moved towards her mouth, the other was likely to take a bite within five seconds. Most of the women were within the normal weight range, but BMI had no impact on how likely a subject was to mirror her cohort.

This isn’t the first study to suggest that it’s in our nature to keep pace with our eating companions, but you can use this knowledge to your advantage. As I suggested here (a post about Thanksgiving that can apply to any celebratory meal) set a goal of consciously becoming the pacesetter. The next time you eat with a girlfriend or a group, slow down, put your fork down between bites, and monitor the effect. Taking the lead can help you and your eating companions avert overeating, feel more satisfied, and better control your waistlines. For a trick to get into the habit of slowing things down, and the link between eating pace and weight, check out my previous post here.

What do you think? Do your dining partners tend to influence how you eat? Please share your thoughts or tweet them to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.

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