Study Suggests Men Overeat to Impress Women

Add this to the list of bizarre human mating rituals.

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Mating rituals in the animal kingdom never cease to amaze. For instance, among red-sided garter snakes as many as 100 males will wrap into a ball around a single female snake, so that one can do the deed. And in the honeybee’s world, the male genitals explode and snap off inside the queen bee during mating.

And we can now add yet another curious ritual to the mating habits of humans: overeating. A new study suggests that the amount of food men eat may be significantly impacted by which sex they dine with.

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For the study, Cornell University researchers observed the lunchtime preferences of diners at an all-you-can-eat, fixed-price Italian buffet. They tallied the number of pizza slices and bowls of salad each diner ate, as well as the gender of both the diner and his or her dining companions. Afterward, the 133 diners were asked to answer a few follow-up questions.


Published in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science, the results were clear-cut. When men dined with women, they ate almost twice as much as when they dined with only men—93 percent more pizza and 86 percent more salad.

The authors speculate that male diners overeat as a way of showing off their he-man bonafides—not unlike a peacock who spreads his tail-feathers for a peahen. The study notes:

“Conspicuous consumption of food is a much less dramatic ‘risk’ than, say, going off to the front lines of war, but research on the effects of obesity nonetheless show overeating to constitute risky behavior. It is also plausible that the masculinity that men can demonstrate through conspicuous eating might function as a mechanism for men to enhance how attractive they are perceived by women.”

The quantity of food eaten by women didn’t change with the gender of their companions—apparently they don’t feel the need to gorge themselves to preen for the opposite sex. However, when women ate with men, many responded in the survey that they had “overeaten” and “felt rushed” through their meal.

Kevin Kniffin, lead author of the study, said that by overconsuming, men may be unconsciously signaling their biological fitness. “Instead of a feat of strength, it’s a feat of eating. (Paradoxically) overeating consistently is going to produce a body shape research shows tends to be viewed as unattractive.”

“Men seem to be eating more, and women feel like they overate,“ Kniffen added. “The findings are clear that people should calm down when eating with members of the opposite sex.”

Given the outlandish mating rituals of some members of the animal planet, those may be words to live by.

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