When Eating Becomes Contagious: How Our Social Circles Can Impact Our Habits

Friends eating in restaurant

Did you know that if your friends make unhealthy food choices, you are more likely to do so as well? This effect works in the opposite direction too. If you happen to have health-oriented friends, you are more likely to make healthier choices as well.

Likewise, if your friends or your partner struggle with their weight, you may be having a similar battle with weight yourself.

How Our Social Circles Influence Us

Research has shown that because humans are innately social, we tend to take on the thoughts and behaviors of others in our social circles who we are closely surrounded by. We are subconsciously influenced by what their habits look like, and many of the same ones end up creeping into our own lifestyles without us noticing.

Another reason we might make unhealthy choices is that we often 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 to create even more of those good feelings that we are 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 regarding how we eat, how we play, and how we celebrate. 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 how we like to spend our free time.

Tools for Success:

  • Planning: Plan 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 going 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?”
  • Honor Your Wellness Goals: After all, we’re talking about your health here, which is directly related to your quality and length of life. Hold on to 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 enjoy it more because you will truly taste 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.”
  • Be Assertive. Learn to stand up for your health goals if anyone tries to put pressure on you to make unhealthy choices.

Please Note: The full version of this article is published by the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC). Click Here to read more.

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