Why Your Friends Could Be Making You Fat
WHO YOU EAT WITH – AND NOT WHAT YOU EAT – MAY BE BEHIND YOUR UNEXPLAINED WEIGHT GAIN. WE LOOK AT THE LATEST RESEARCH ON HOW OUR CHOICE OF DINING BUDDY CAN AFFECT OUR EATING HABITS
WORDS DR KELLIE BILINSKI, ACCREDITED PRACTISING DIETITIAN
MOST OF US HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT HAVING A FITNESS BUDDY TO EXERCISE WITH, HOWEVER HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT HAVING A “DIET BUDDY”? HAVING A SUPPORTIVE FRIEND CAN BE INCREDIBLY HELPFUL WHEN IT COMES TO IMPROVING OUR LIFESTYLE.
In terms of exercise, a fitness buddy can help maintain our motivation, especially when we’re inclined to skip the exercise session if we’re busy or not feeling up to it. They can also help push us that little bit further than we normally would. For instance, if you’re struggling to get to the top of the hill on a walk, they can encourage you to make it. In addition, exercising with a friend can make it more enjoyable, which also makes the time pass quicker! We can apply these same principles to having a friend that can support our efforts to improve our diet.
If you dine out with a friend who shares the same goals, chances are you’re going to be more likely to choose a venue that offers healthier alternatives. And, on the occasion you are out together where there are foods on offer that you were trying to limit, Diet Buddies might just offer each other the support they need to stay on track.
Scientific research has shown that there’s a powerful influence of friends on our eating behaviour. For instance, a large study from Arizona State University showed that if our friends are heavy, we’re more likely to be heavy also. The reasons for this may include peer pressure; if our friends are eating a slice of cake, we’re more inclined to have some too. Or it may be that we lose sight of what our weight should be when those around us are carrying a little extra weight, or simply that we have the same bad habits when it comes to choosing foods and snacking.
So while we know that friends eating can cause us to eat more than we normally would, a study conducted at the University of Minnesota has shown that friends can also be helpful in reducing the amount we eat. The study observed eating behaviour when small groups of friends got together to discuss a campus issue. In half of the groups, two of the three friends were asked to restrict what they ate while the third friend was unaware of them being asked not to eat too much; whereas the other groups were allowed to eat as they normally would. After the group discussion, the friends were then asked to take their plates of cookies into separate rooms to complete another task individually. The researchers found that the student who was unaware that the friends had been asked to restrict their consumption of cookies, ate fewer cookies. Even after the friends split up, people continued to eat fewer cookies alone if they had just watched their friends avoid eating the cookies. This highlights that even when we’re not with our friends, their eating habits can still influence ours, for the better.
This is an exert from Oxygen Magazine Australia Issue 77. To purchase your copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.