Binge eating is often associated with secrecy and shame. Those who binge eat often do so in private, consuming thousands of calories in a relatively short period of time, and usually in one sitting. Binging usually occurs at home or when a person is alone.
People pleasers, however, have the opposite problem. Their need to make others approve of their actions may influence how many bites they take or how much dessert they consume. Instead of binging in a private setting, people pleasers consume more calories than they desire because they perceive the need to eat to gain approval in social settings.
People pleasers are just that: their actions are geared largely toward winning the esteem of others. They often have a distinct need for verbal encouragement and are crushed by criticism.
A new study illustrates this point, showing that people pleasers are likely to eat just to make another person feel comfortable in a situation. Lead author Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University, explains that while most people have been in a situation where they feel compelled to eat for others’ approval, there are some people who are especially sensitive to this pressure.
“If you sense that another person wants you to eat, you’ll be more likely to eat more,” Exline, told Good Morning America. “If we look back later and feel like we’ve given into social pressure, we often regret those choices.”
“It’s not a big deal if grandma cooks you a big dinner once a year. But if you live with grandma, it could be a problem,” Exline said.
To understand the pressure that is put on some to eat in social situations, Exline recruited 101 undergraduates who had met the criteria for having a people-pleasing personality. This was done through the use of a survey that measured the presence of certain personality traits. Those who were people pleasers tended to worry about hurting others’ feelings, put the needs of other people first, and were sensitive to criticism.
The participants were put in a situation to test their eating habits related to their need for social approval. Each individual was seated with an actress who was told to act like another study volunteer. The actress was given a bowl of candy. As instructed, she took a handful and passed the bowl to the people-pleasing study participants.
Those who were people pleasers tended to take more candy. This finding was consistent in the laboratory experiment, and in a secondary setting that involved the participants’ report of real-life situations involving food.
Exline says that those who are people pleasers are reluctant to upset the social harmony that would result from refusing to accept the candy bowl.