Is Overeating Contagious?

Are bad habits contagious? When I hang out with certain friends I think I eat way too much junk food.

Gail Saltz, M.D.

Gail Saltz, M.D.

Psychiatrist, columnist, bestselling author, and television commentator Gail Saltz, M.D., has been called "a voice of wisdom and... Read more

In the past few years there have been a number of studies that have looked at the effect of family, friends and spouse have on our eating habits and weight. Unfortunately it seems that poor eating habits love company and birds of a feather really do flock together. If the people you dine with tend to eat high calorie foods—and a lot of them—you are more likely to as well. Close friends seem to affect your choices the most, but so do your spouse and siblings. A woman’s feeling about how she is viewed as an eater and the gender of her eating partners can change her food choices altogether. College girls will eat less when they sit down with bunch of guys compared to eating with a bunch of girls.


Does this mean that you should drop your overweight friends? No. It means that you have to be conscious of this effect because you have a better chance of overriding it. Perhaps more importantly, it means you can have a positive influence on those around you. Discuss portioning, choose places to eat that have healthier options and encourage each other to a work out. Rather than dragging each other down, you can drag each other up.


Humans are intensely social creatures. Even if there is no overt peer pressure to do something, we tend to follow what others are doing by nature. Drinking, sexual behavior and even drug use can mimic that of our friends. It’s worth remembering that social pressure is inherent in all of us but is often unconscious. Your best weapon is to make well thought-out decisions about how you wish to behave.