Heavy Waiter Study Reveals Missing Piece in Mindless Eating Research


A recent study from the renowned Cornell mindless eating research lab suggests people of all sizes order more food when they’re served by larger-bodied waiters.

The study found people “who ordered their dinner from heavier wait staff are four times more likely to order dessert, and ordered 17% more alcohol”.  The researchers attributed this effect to the size of the waiters giving diners license to “cut loose a little” and just order what they want, regardless of calories and the like.

In today’s eating-and-weight-worried world, the finding comes as little surprise. When people are around someone they don’t feel they have to prove anything to about body size, or who even might be a bit like them, it seems natural that they might be less self-conscious and anxious about eating. And therefore, feel freer to order what they want.

But there’s a problem that goes unrecognized too often in too many studies about mindless eating – as well as healthy eating studies in general – and this most recent research shines a light on that.

It’s that researchers generally don’t take into account the effects of weight stigma and the resulting diet mentality on people’s eating behaviors. And if they don’t do that, they’re not getting a clear picture of what’s really going on.

You Gotta Account for How Weight Stigma Drives Overeating & Weight Gain

Weight stigma is the bias against larger bodies that runs rampant in today’s world. It drives people of all sizes to worry about their weight, and that distorts their eating as they fall prey to diet rules. The diet mentality begins to affect their eating choices – what they “should” and “shouldn’t” eat, and how much and when.

It drives people to mindless eating, just to escape all the anxiety about what and how much they are eating.

It also distorts what people think they want to eat.  Feelings of deprivation and rebellion against diet rules muddy decision-making around food. What you think you want to eat may not be what you really want.

Let me explain.

After restricting what you eat in the quest for weight loss or weight management, people often define food wants as richer, usually off-limits items – like dessert or alcohol in this study.

And that’s fine. I think many people want those foods anyway, dieters or not.

But mindful eating practitioners like myself encourage people to also think about how they want to feel after eating. So that we fully enjoy our meals as we eat, but when we get up from the table, we’re energized and ready to meet the rest of our day.

Mindfulness Cues Us into How We FEEL – Encouraging “Healthy Eating”

That idea is summed up in our definition of healthy eating at Green Mountain at Fox Run:

Once you get this down, the size of your waiter, tv commercials that feature pizza oozing with cheese, or the Dunkin Donuts sign on your way to work won’t necessarily have a negative effect.

That’s because you’ll be eating according to your needs, tuned into what you need to feel good.  Your eating decisions become conscious choices, not a reaction to restriction. And it can make a world of difference in how you eat.

It would really help if healthy eating researchers would start taking this whole phenomenon into account. I dare say it would lead to a lot more effective strategies for helping people eat better.

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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