Research is emerging to suggest eating little and often is healthier for us, and that we should be having as many as nine meals every day.

London - If you are piling on the pounds, don’t buy bigger clothes – get a new dining companion.

Eating with someone who always goes for the unhealthy option makes you more likely to give in to temptation as well, a study has found.

On the other hand, a friend or partner who always turns down the chips and opts for a salad can encourage you to follow suit.

Psychologists at the University of Birmingham monitored 100 women at a lunch buffet and found they were significantly influenced by the food choices of those around them.

The women were asked to choose whatever they wanted to eat while, without their knowledge, the person at their side was told to go for either all the high-calorie, or low calorie options.

Those with someone who helped themselves to the cocktail sausages, pasties and crisps, tended to choose the same. Those who were either alone or with someone who chose carrot sticks, tomatoes and rice cakes, went for the healthy option, eating 200 fewer calories than the other group.

While participants’ snack choice was influenced by others, when it came to sandwiches there was no major difference. This may be because a sandwich is seen as an “appropriate” lunch, but our choice of snacks depends on what others find acceptable, the experts said.

Dr Eric Robinson, who led the study, said: “We advise people to be aware of what those around them are choosing to eat.”

Previous research has suggested we eat more with other people than on our own - but now scientists increasingly believe it depends who it is.

Women have been found in studies to eat more when a friend is indulging, but less in the presence of a desirable man.

Dr Suzanne Higgs, Reader in Psychobiology of Appetite at Birmingham said: “This research underlines the social nature of eating and how this influences our behaviour.” - Daily Mail