Food envy is real and could sabotage your healthy diet, study reveals

·3-min read
New research has suggested food envy is real. (Getty Images)
New research has suggested food envy is real. (Getty Images)

Science has just proven what we've long suspected, that food envy is an actual thing. 

You're out for dinner with your pals and have decided to stick to a light salad. Your friend on the other hand, opts for something more indulgent, and all of a sudden your good intentions have gone out the window. 

We've all been there (not so much recently, granted), but while we've long described those feelings of jealousy over others' choice of dish as "food envy", researchers have recently confirmed that it is totally real. 

A new study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, found that dining companions can have a huge influence on what we eat. 

The research revealed people make healthy and unhealthy decisions depending on what the other people around them are eating. 

We are more likely to mirror food choices of close friends, but even sitting and eating with a casual acquaintance can have an impact on how both people eat, according to the research.

Watch: Most people look at 2021 as a do-over for health and wellness goals. 

The study involved examining 6,000 employees of an American hospital making three million encounters between pairs over two years.

The researchers collected data on food purchases, taking note of when and who the person was with at the time they made their decision.

Results revealed that people who knew each other were consistently more alike in their food options than they were different.

More noticeably, researchers found some employees made healthier choices on days they sat with co-workers who regularly ate well.

One point to bear in mind, is that it may not be possible to determine if friends choose one another based on common interests or whether one person’s interests are the result of a friend’s influence, according to Dr Douglas Levy, associate professor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"We found that individuals tend to mirror the food choices of others in their social circles, which may explain one way obesity spreads through social networks," he explains. 

"We controlled characteristics that people had in common and analysed the data from numerous perspectives, consistently finding results that supported social influence rather than homophily [the tendency for people to seek out those who are similar to themselves] explanations."

Peer pressure could be one explanation for the phenomenon.

"People may change their behaviour to cement the relationship with someone in their social circle," Dr Levy added.

"Co-workers may also implicitly or explicitly give each other license to choose unhealthy foods or exert pressure to make a healthier choice."

The research found people make healthy and unhealthy decisions depending on what the other people around them are eating. (Getty Images)
The research found people make healthy and unhealthy decisions depending on what the other people around them are eating. (Getty Images)

Professor Mark Pachucki, of the University of Massachusetts, added: "As we emerge from the pandemic and transition back to in-person work, we have an opportunity to eat together in a more healthful way than we did before.

"If your eating habits shape how your co-workers eat — even just a little — then changing your food choices for the better might benefit your co-workers as well."

The study follows a previous poll revealing Brits suffer from food envy once a week – with cheesy garlic bread, pizza and cheesecake most likely to bring on the green-eyed monster.

According to the research, undertaken on behalf of Just Eat, a third of Brits say they're more likely to suffer from this very specific emotion in January than any other time of year.

Why? Well, mostly because a lot of people try and restrict their diet at this time of year, but actually all they really want to eat is pizza and burgers. 

Additional reporting SWNS.

Watch: New study suggests link between obesity and heavier periods. 

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