Doreen Lerner, PhD

Did you know that if your friends make unhealthy food choices, you’re more likely to do so as well?

This works in the opposite direction too — if you happen to have health-oriented friends, you’re more likely to make healthier choices as well. In fact, research has shown that women with friends who order fast food and soft drinks consume more of these than do women with friends who make healthier menu choices. In the same study, women with friends who ate lots of produce also ate more of these healthy foods. Likewise, if your friends or your partner are dealing with obesity, you’re likely to be having a similar struggle yourself.

The researchers concluded that people who eat together at restaurants make similar menu choices because they like to fit in with everyone else. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

In fact, we don’t even have to know the person to end up copying their habits. A recent study showed that the body type and food choices of someone eating near us in a restaurant can influence what we pick and how much we eat.

The researchers recruited an actress to wear fake padding that made her look 50 pounds heavier, and 82 students were served a spaghetti and salad lunch. When the actress wore the suit, the students ate 31 percent more pasta regardless of whether the actress served herself mostly pasta or mostly salad. When she wore the suit and served herself more salad, the students actually ate 43 percent less salad. The researchers commented that it was almost as though the students gave themselves permission to eat a less healthy meal because of the actress’s appearance, even when she served herself mostly salad.

Another reason we might make unhealthy choices is that when we connect eating out in the company of friends or family members with feeling happy and enjoying ourselves. We may unconsciously use food as a kind of tool for trying to create even more of those good feelings that we’re feeling, rather than for reasons related to nutrition or hunger. In other words, we may use food as a way of ramping up those good feelings that we were already feeling just from being part of a happy celebration.

Every group, culture, family and workplace has its own set of customs or habits when it comes to how we eat, how we play and how we celebrate. In order to feel a sense of connection, we’re likely to follow the customs or habits of the people we spend time with, from the food we eat to the ways in which we like to spend our free time.

Tools for Success:

  • Planning – plan out your meal before you leave home – know what you’re going to eat. Plan around whatever your meal plan is for the rest of that day.
  • Awareness – ask yourself, is the food on my fork there to nourish me, or is it there to match what someone else has on their fork? Am I eating to satisfy my hunger – or theirs?
  • Be who you are, and honor your own wellness goals. After all, we’re talking about your health here, which is directly related to your quality and length of your life. Mentally hold onto your reasons for wanting to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Be mindful – truly taste your food. Eat slowly and savor every bite. Put your fork down between bites, and take a sip of water. If you do choose to indulge in something that is not on your meal plan, you’re more likely to eat less of it if you eat it in this manner, and you’ll definitely enjoy it more because you’re truly tasting it, rather than just swallowing it.
  •  Use positive affirmations – eating in a healthy way around people who are indulging in tempting treats is not easy. Silently give yourself lots of encouragement and praise yourself for making healthy choices. Tell yourself things like “You can do this. I’m proud of you. You’re going to feel so good about this later.”
  • Remind yourself of the other tough stuff that you’ve faced. Tell yourself “anyone who could get past (whatever the tough stuff was), can definitely turn down this piece of cake!”
  • Be assertive – learn to stand up for your health goals if anyone tries to put pressure on you to make unhealthy choices.

About the Author:
Doreen Lerner, PhD, is the Psychologist/Director for the Institute for Lifelong Weight Management. To receive Dr. Lerner’s free report, “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Losers,” please CLICK HERE.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not reflect the views of the OAC, the National Board of Directors or staff. The OAC does not endorse any merchandise, program or hyperlinks mentioned in this blog post.