Last night I had the pleasure of joining three of my colleagues for a dinner of wonderful seafood. I went with the yellowfin. As we sat down I noticed the dessert menu and made some quip about saving room. In near chorus fashion, my colleagues (all women), stated they would not be eating dessert tonight, they had simply eaten enough earlier. A study in the offing. I decided that I would be having dessert whether I wanted or needed it. Why? Because I thought I might be able to influence my peers.
Dinner was excellent. Bread, a couple of small appetizers, wonderful service, and of course, the yellowfin. We discussed higher education, always stimulating over dinner, talked of family, and enjoyed a glass or two of wine. I dropped hints of dessert, “the cobbler looks good,” and “the chocolate souffle sounds wonderful.” I have no idea of what a souffle even is. My suggestion drew sheepish grins but otherwise went unnoticed.
Our server returned at the end of our meal and asked about dessert. I immediately responded that I would be having the cobbler and a cup of decaf. Followed by a moment of pause one of my colleagues said, “the souffle sounds amazing, but I can’t eat the whole thing.” (A subtle play to gain permission by getting others to go with you. Well played). “I’ll share it with you!” chimed in another colleague excitedly. “I’ll take a cup of cappuccino,” stated my third colleague, “I normally don’t do coffee this late.” After strong objections at the beginning of the meal and some avoidance during, all three had just ordered more calories. Why?
There are several factors at play here. However, the main one, I feel, is that I gave them permission to have dessert. Not explicit permission, I did not say, “go ahead, order dessert.” I hold no authority in this group. Rather, I simply opened the door by getting desert myself, thereby allowing them to think to themselves, “If Mark gets dessert….” A subtle cue had been provided. I simply changed their consumption norms. We all look to those around us as we we eat. However subtle, we take in cues that alter our eating behavior, if only slightly. This change has been repeatedly demonstrated. How often have you ordered dessert simply because someone else did? Have you ever had one more piece of bread because the person across from you did? We may not always notice it, or even be aware of it, but our dining mates exert a powerful influence on our eating behavior.
Something funny happened on the way to the check last night. Through subtle cues, I influenced a shift of a couple of hundred calories in my colleagues. Call me evil. (Aside from me the other factors at play included the atmosphere of dim light, white tablecloths, nice bottles of wine, excellent service. All of which will increase consumption). After several denials of dessert, all enjoyed something. The colleague who stuck to cappuccino? She took a couple bites of each dessert. And the most vocal denier of dessert? Asked permission to eat the final dregs of the chocolate strawberry sauce used to cover the souffle. From a small pitcher. With a spoon.
It’s Friday and that means a new Food Rule. I’d like to offer one from based in last night’s experience:
No dessert. Not always, but when you decide not to have dessert tonight, stick with the plan. Don’t let someone else nudge you towards an extra 300 calories. You’ve made the decision to not have dessert. Stick to it, you’ll feel wonderful when you do.
I’ll sum up my travels, successes and failures around food and exercise, in my next posting. Happy Friday.