Do skinny waitresses make you eat less?

Update: Some people are male and some people are female. Some are overweight and some are underweight. Tall, short. Old, young. This study was about a woman, an artificial body type, and the affect on consumer behaviour. We understand why some readers are offended by the content, but there is no prejudice meant — however categorized, men and women are equal.


In commercials you always see pretty and slender actresses selling to you — thin women are considered more persuasive.

But a 2010 study at the University of British Columbia suggests a different mechanism in our decision making: identification with the seller’s body type.

The experiment had two parts…

First, a slender woman (BMI of 19) recommended participants eat one of two snacks: carrots or cookies.

Next, she put on a body suit that made her appear overweight (BMI of 33), and then made the same recommendations: carrots or cookies.


The result?

When the waitress was thin she was able to persuade more subjects to eat carrots.

Great! We should all eat more carrots.

But the highest level of persuasion was when the overweight server recommended cookies — more cookies were consumed.

Conclusion: Your environment and the people around you can affect the choices you make.

So the next time you are tempted to order that Double Chocolate Cream Pie — take a moment and think about the subtle triggers affecting your decision — it may be having a bigger influence than you think.

28 thoughts on “Do skinny waitresses make you eat less?

  1. So then I guess there would be a benefit for restaurants hiring overweight waitstaff assuming everything else is comparable.

  2. I think this seems like a very off topic post with a not very small portion of sexism and fatshaming. My advice is to put this post down and think it through the next time you think about doing a “fun” post about women and their bodies.

      1. Okay, so it was just pure chance that out of thousands of interesting studies in psychology about psychology when it comes to eating that was done last years you chose to write a blog post about one that featured women and weight, with a photo of a thin girl wearing a fat suit attached and the implicit message that we should avoid being served food by fat women and stick with the thin ones. Allow me to be skeptical. 🙂

      2. however, good that you somewhat listened to the critique. and looking forward to those electric shocks once I get a pavlok. ; -)

  3. Did the study say whether the customers were male or female? I wonder if that would make a difference. Also, would the result be the same if the overweight server were male? These would be interesting, telling variations.

  4. Hey… I think I’m gonna have to agree with Pontus. Instead of stigmatizing overweight women and blaming them for poor food choices, how about empowering people by telling them that they have the free will to control their food portions. Mature, responsible individuals only blame themselves for terrible decision making. Pavlok should go above and beyond finding the cause for poor choices and poor decisions, Pavlok and its web articles should empower the wearers of the device, not play finger pointer and blame innocent overweight women for others’ mistakes. I’m a thin woman who used to be overweight and not once have I blamed other people for my weight problems? Why? Because I took responsability for my mistakes! Blaming others based on psychology is incredibly immature. Please embrace willpower, stop focusing on the “causes” of poor decisions. Grown recognize poor decisions are their own and are not caused by other people. Strong people have a strong will.

  5. OMG when I read this post I realized just how many fat women are all around me, encouraging me to make unhealthy choices just by existing. Just this morning I ate part of a donut when I just meant to have a coffee and – get this – the woman that served it to me was fat! Actually she handed it to my boyfriend, who ordered it – but! – I went on public transportation, where there are DEFINITELY fat women (I don’t remember any in particular, but I’m sure they seeped into my subconscious), and that’s where I ate a couple of bites – and HE ATE THE REST. After reading this I was FLOORED – seeing those fat bodies must have pushed us both over the edge.
    As a woman, I have a particularly important motivation to stay healthy: my FAT BODY could set off an epidemic, making me a warped and disgusting butterfly (okay, maybe more like a gross moth, that has trouble flying) whose flapping wingfat sets off a chain reaction of obesity in the world.
    This is a great post because we all need more encouragement to look at and judge women’s bodies.

  6. PS: The actual conclusion, in my opinion, is that people are more prone to trust the recommendation of someone who appears to know and love the product. It’s like the old adage, “Never trust a skinny cook.” Your conclusion encourages us to “size up” our waitress (horrible) and even hold her partly responsible for our personal food choices. I’m sure that’s not what you intended.

  7. Hello Liz, I hope you were being satirical because your post is unreal. You can say whatever you want Liz, but at the end of the day your terrible food choices are yours and yours only. I was 145 pounds on 5’3″ and I lost 28 pounds on my own and I can guarantee you that the way I’ve changed my diet had nothing to do with skinny people, nor overweight people. I’m a 117 pounds with 16% body fat because I work out all the time and I’ve become vegan. If an overweight woman working in a store (doing her job btw) tried selling me a doughnut then I would politely decline it because I have will power. It sounds like your boyfriend has little willpower because he bought the doughnut. You hate yourself for not having strong will. Maybe itit would be wise not to take it out on overweight women and their existence! Btw, I don’t understand why you have to be hateful and judge like that. Instead of taking out your hate on random strangers maybe you should find a boyfriend that knows better than to eat doughnuts! It sounds like he’s the problem, he’s the one making poor choices and dragging you along!

  8. It’s true-It has more to do with your environment than you think, because willpower and cognition have limits. IE. Notice all the candy and trashy magazines are at the till as you are exiting the store.
    Thanks for posting this study! It supports a similar theory I’ve had for a while.
    Also, I highly recommended “Mindless Eating” to the uninitiated in psychology and it’s effect on food consumption.

    1. Yes, impulse purchases — fascinating. That has a lot to do w/ willpower exhaustion as you make decision after decision throughout the store. By the end you’ve used it all up :- (

  9. Thanks for inspiring me to do my own personal study on this! I’m going to pay attention to my “surroundings” while making food choices and see if I catch myself getting “caught up” in the triggers my brain has been taught to accept/embrace.

  10. I’d like to thank you for updating the article! It really makes a difference is the way the content is perceived, thank you!

  11. I’m finding the responses very interesting. The fact is, we are humans running of some very dated hardware & software. We survived and evolved through learning about our environment and making choices based on the information we have.

    Yes self control is a big factor and no the overweight waitress is not at fault. Our own subconscious is.

    This isn’t about fat shaming, it’s about human psychology.

    The same psychology that influences us to purchase different amounts based on price or buy higher prices meals when restaurants leave the currency symbol off the menu or bu more stuff when we aren’t paying with cash.

  12. But did the fat waitress try to convince them to eat carrots? Was she only supposed to try to get them to eat cookies? To be accurate she should try both carrots and cookies with both sizes. If someone is trying to get you to choose something you already kinda want it is a heck of a lot easier to say yes. So if a skinny chick is saying how goooood the cookies are we are likely to take her advice too, since we already want the cookies regardless.

  13. I’m not sure how the post originally read before the edits, and what language some folks found offensive, but as a woman who has struggled with weight all my life, and who has worked as a restaurant server (a very appearance-oriented work culture) , I found the science fascinating and real to life. Because the study was 5 years old and conducted in Canada, I was curious about follow-up research, and also geographic and cultural variations on the results. (As an American in the hospitality industry, I wondered also about the difference in gratuities the fat/thin waitress received on the carrots vs. cookies orders.) Remember, everyone, this is a blog for a company that uses science to help people break bad habits to live LONGER, healthier lives. For those who prefer to remain obese in spite of all the health risks (or to keep biting their nails, continue smoking, defensively whining about “[insert bad behavior here] shaming”, etc.) there are countless other blogs to read and comment on. My money is on free will and free speech. Thanks, Pavlok!

  14. As a full time waitress who is also thin and fit, I can tell you this is very true! Big women seem to think twice before ordering a country fried steak smothered in sausage gravy when I start taking their order. I sell a lot of salads. Maybe seeing another female who is taking care of herself inspires them to eat a little healthier?

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