The gist of the competitive eating world is that the more you can eat, the more impressive you are (at least to male adolescents). But if you've ever wondered why dudes feel compelled to plow through ten-pound burgers or endless platters of spaghetti, there may finally be some answers.
Keeping the dream alive from that time you polished off a whole XL pizza at a birthday party to the cheers of your adulating peers, a new study found that dudes are more likely to chow down hard when women are present in an effort to impress them.
The study, conducted by Cornell University and published in Evolutionary Psychological Science, observed 105 adults noshing at an all-you-can-eat Italian buffet. Subjects were unaware that their consumption was being monitored. When they were eating with women, guys ate an average of about one and a half more slices of pizza and nearly two and a half additional small bowls of salad than those eating with other men. (Consumption of side dishes wasn't counted, so there's no solid evidence of how many more breadsticks guys eat in desperate efforts to impress a lady-friend.)
Overall, guys ate 93 percent more pizza and 86 percent more salad at the buffet when they were eating with a woman. And they say chivalry is dead.
No word on whether any of the women were actually impressed by this gluttony in any sense, but female participants did say that they felt rushed when eating with men and also felt that they overate. But the amount women actually ate didn't differ significantly whether they were eating with men or other women.
"These findings suggest that men tend to overeat to show off—you can also see this tendency in eating competitions, which almost always have mostly male participants," said Dr. Kevin Kniffin, co-author of the study.
It's worth noting, though, that all-male eating competitions might seem to contradict the study's findings. If guys are willing to cram down 30-plus dogs and buns around a bunch of other dudes, aren't they eating to impress each other, not women? (Or maybe they're just in pursuit of a personal best.) But, the study notes, "commercially popular eating contests tend to feature scantily clad women as part of the event" who cheer on the competitors to the eating podium, and their presence likely influences eating habits.
It's also certainly worth noting that while the word of competitive eating is largely dominated by men, there are a number of female champions as well, such as Miki Sudo and Molly Schuyler. And if you've ever watched footage of Schuyler destroying two 72-ounce steaks, it's safe to say she's not doing it just to impress her dining companions.
If you are regularly powering through too much pizza, you might even be able to shift some blame—the study's findings "suggest the hypothesis that, beyond a given situation, men will be more likely to persistently overeat as a function of the frequency with which they eat meals in the company of women."
The Cornell study notes in its introduction that evolutionary psychologists have examined how male perception can influence how women eat, leading to eating disorders such as anorexia in order to meet male preferences. Not many studies have examined the problematic eating habits of men, the study says. Other research has suggested that men who have a preference for spicy food tend to have higher levels of testosterone.
That men consume more unhealthy and healthy food in the presence of women may go back to basic instinct. The study finds it plausible that in the context of one meal, heavy eating is free from "longer-term morphological consequences"—i.e., undesirable weight gain—and it can be a demonstration of strength and energy. Other studies have suggested that men might eat more around one another as a way of expressing dominance, and might eat more new, novel, or exotic foods in front of women to demonstrate strong immune systems.
Whatever the reason for overeating, pizza buffets aren't exactly known as temples of moderation … nor are they a likely place to meet your soulmate. That said, you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't love pizza, and if neverending pizza is something you and another can bond over, that's a beautiful thing.