It is not just diet and exercise, the friends you hang out with affects your health too!
It’s time we alter the overused saying “You are what you eat” to “You are what people you are around with, eat”. Imagine a situation when you are having a casual lunch with your friends and you decide to order the main course. Now you really want to have a healthy steamed salmon but your buddy on the right opts for a steak burger with double cheese and fries. You start salivating by just the picture of the steak burger and the cheese oozing out of it. Torn apart by the weight of this decision, you change your order to a steak burger with French fries and a soda to go with it. Haven’t we all gone through this?
The company you keep says a lot about you, they influence the way you think, act and EAT! It is said that “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”. To figure out how this is applicable to our daily habits, I was keen on considering the scientific facts. Research proves that there are different areas where our peers affect our choices and I was baffled to know that our eating habits, the weight that we carry, the food choices we make and even our food buying is affected by our peers – surprised much?
Let’s look into how this works!
When you hear about contagious diseases, the names that pop in your head are of Ebola, Hepatitis B, flu etc. but did you know that obesity is socially contagious? According to a study that analyzed the health data collected from more than 12,000 people over 32 years, the researchers found a person’s chance of becoming obese increased by 57 percent if someone, they considered a friend, became obese. And that risk increased to 171 percent if it was a mutual friend. The results show that obesity is socially contagious. But, the more interesting fact is that if friends of your friends gained weight, this effect could still ripple out to you! Alarming, isn’t it?
According to the Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences: 2016, this is because our eating pattern and choices differ when we have a company and when we eat alone! Our dietary choices also tend to converge with those of our close social connections. How does that work?
- One reason for this is that we like to copy others to ‘fit-in’ and we find it rewarding to be a part of a group. Norms of appropriate eating are set by the behavior of other people and are affected by cultural and environmental features.
- We are more likely to follow an eating pattern if it is perceived to be relevant based on social comparison and these patterns are set by people with whom we identify.
No bewilderment here, but research suggests that your meal becomes 33 percent larger when you eat with one person as compared to a meal savored alone. But, it gets scarier from here-
Third-wheeling with two friends? Then, get ready to eat a 47 percent bigger meal. Dining with 4, 6 or 8+ friends was associated with an increase in the meal size to 69, 70 and 96 percent, respectively.
However, every cloud has a silver lining! Our peers can help us choose healthier options as well. Based on a study that tested how groups of people ordered in a restaurant, adding calorie information to the menus and measuring how their choices affected others in the group, it was inferred that peer choices turned out to be a much stronger influence on their choices.
So how can you create healthy influencers to boost you?
- Monkey see, monkey do
There is always this one person we look up to and mirror the behavioral patterns to frame ourselves to be like them. From their way of conducting themselves to how they think rationally, you try and mimic their strong features. The next time you choose an “I want to be like her” person, choose someone who also motivates you to be healthy.
- Choose quality over quantity
I believe that you should surround yourself with people who feed you with strength, motivation, and courage to overcome roadblocks. It is not about the 20 friends you hang out with for coffee, it is about the 4 friends that help you become a better version of yourself.
- Create your own norms
Our eating habits are influenced by various factors – culture, family, friends, etc. You need not eat in a certain way to ‘fit in’ and be a part of the group. Create your own norms of eating healthy. Break the bandwagon!
- Revamp the way you socialize and celebrate
Many times, eating and socializing are considered to be synonymous. You do not need to catch up over a coffee to discuss something or go out for drinks and dinner to celebrate. Explore fun ways to socialize and get together over different outdoor activities to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Ditch the boring sit-down dinner for a trek over the weekend. In this way, you’ll create beautiful memories and also prevent yourself from over-eating!
- Be an influencer and not an impressionist
Why not carry a fruit at work for yourself and your colleagues instead of taking a snack out of the vending machine to motivate healthy habits? Be that person everyone tries to mirror and set health goals for yourself and encourage everyone else to do the same.
Build a culture of good health for yourself. And try to be in the company of friends who influence and encourage you for all the good things. For example, befriend a person who will push you to take a yoga class with her, a person who reminds you to drink enough water at work or someone who eats at least 3 fruits a day. Keep these friends close and build an atmosphere of healthy living. Surround yourself with health-conscious people, their positivity can be contagious.
We, at bon happetee, believe that there is a powerful connection between staying motivated towards your health goals and social media. It brings in positive reinforcement, a broader support network, accountability and easy access to information. Friends that form health goals together, stay together! And, therefore, we have a feature in our app which helps people to connect with their friends and challenge them for healthy meals. It is designed in an interesting way, wherein you can compare your meal scores with your friends, share your food menu, take cues from them and even react to their meals! We believe in making ‘eating’ a fun task!
So build a community and challenge your buddies to mutually attain health goals on the bon happetee app. Want to be a part of our community? Download the app here!
Akansha is the Founder and Consultant at Beyond the Weighing Scale. With a wide range of expertise and skills, she is adept to speak about nutrition, health, lifestyle management and physical activity. She is a popular food columnist, a passionate foodie, a health enthusiast, an avid traveler and a happy yogi.