Picture this. You’re planning to go out to dinner with friends, and you find yourselves discussing the same places you always go to. You have an idea of which healthy option you will order, but when you get to the restaurant, everyone else orders first and all of a sudden their choices sound better than yours.
Once the food comes, you get lost in conversation with your friends; and before you realize it, you are done with your food, having consumed it at the same pace as those around you.
Does this scenario sound familiar? It should—because friends and family can influence your dietary habits.
A study recently published in the Journal of the Academy of Food and Nutrition looked at the effects of social norms on eating behavior. Researchers found people ate more food if they were told their peers had eaten more. When they were told their peers were eating healthier foods, they ate healthier.
Eating is often combined with social activity, so it makes sense that the people we surround ourselves with will influence our eating behaviors. But you can’t do all your eating alone in your room; isolation isn’t healthy, either.
Here are some ways to eat healthy and still have a social life.
- Practice mindfulness. Whether you eat alone or with friends, be a mindful eater. Taste your food, take small bites and pay attention to hunger and fullness cues throughout your meal. This is definitely harder to do when you’re engaged in conversation, but make a note to stop halfway through to check in with yourself before continuing.
- Challenge a friend. Knowing how much of an impact your friends can have on you, take advantage of working together to achieve goals. Looking to set a personal record in your next race or increase the amount of vegetables you eat in a day? Motivate each other with friendly competition.
- Know that people have their own individual nutrition needs. Be careful when comparing the types and amounts of food you eat with your friends. Everyone has different macro- and micronutrient requirements based on height, weight, age, gender, genetics and activity level.
- Find other ways to identify with your group. It’s important to identify with your friends and surround yourself with like-minded individuals; but it does not always have to include food. You each bring something unique to the mix, and your differences shape the group dynamic.
- Surround yourself with visual reminders and positive influences. Write down your goals in a journal and read them every day. Put positive affirmations on your bedroom walls and recite them out loud while getting ready for the day. Take pictures of your food or start a food blog. Help your family plan meals for the week or suggest some dinner ideas. Pack snacks and lunches ahead of time so you are ready to go and not easily influenced by your classmates at school.
Robinson, Eric; Thomas, Jason; Aveyard, Paul; Higgs, Suzanne. “What Everyone Else is Eating: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Informational Eating Norms on Eating Behavior.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Volume 114, Number 3. March 2014.