How Your Friends & Family Influence Your Fitness Journey
Operative word here is “influence.” No one can make you gain weight, you ultimately have control. However, we are all human are heavily influenced by those we spend the most time with. I have personally experienced this “influence” not only with working on my nutrition, but when I was trying to quit smoking 10+ years ago. (Can you believe I’m an ex-smoker?! Yuk!)
But don’t just take my word for it. British researchers from the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, say that social norms can strongly influence the type and amount of food we eat. In other words, if your friends and family think that fast food, processed foods or big bag of chips determines a meal, you’re less likely regularly eat healthy foods and more moderate portions.
Although your friends are probably not purposely trying to sabotage you … they still can have a huge effect. So listen up, so you’re prepared!
1.Negativity towards your new lifestyle
Your friends and family are supposed to be supportive, right? Especially during the ups and downs of your journey. But sometimes that just doesn’t happen. Negative feedback came come in all different forms. It can come through guilt, undermining your efforts or through direct criticism. But just like they’re voicing their opinion, you must also voice yours and tell them you just don’t want to hear it! Because you don’t need that in your head. The more critical they are of your body, the more weight you can gain, according to a recent study in the journal Personal Relationships. As your working on your lifestyle, it’s important to have positive and affirming thoughts along with constructive, loving feedback that will help you improve.
2. Back-handed compliments
This ties along with #1, but I wanted to call it out separately because it’s so important to isolate. These are definitely negative, but they can be so indirect it’s heart-wrenching. Have you ever heard someone say, “oh girl you’re losing so much weight you’re going to disappear!” OR “You look great now, but I thought you looked better before.” OR “Why are you still worried about restricting your diet it’s not like you need to lose weight.” UGH! So frustrating.
Some of these comments are out of pure innocence. Sometimes people just don’t know what to say, so they just regurgitate some general common statements. Other times, it’s out of pure jealousy. Not because they don’t want YOU to succeed, but because they’re feeling stuck themselves and you’re a reminder of what they’re not doing (and they wish to be doing). I’m a pretty direct person generally, so my first recommendation is for you to lovingly share with them that their comments are hurtful and you hope that they can support you. My second recommendation is to follow my first one – haha. It will help cleanup any unnecessary future frustrations that can bottle up over time. Just nip it in the bud now.
3. Good ol’ peer pressure
Social pressure can definitely be overwhelming. Sometimes it’s in your face. You know, when you’re at a house party or restaurant with friends/family and you turn down the cheesecake you may receive comments like, “c’mon, have a slice – live a little.” OR “It’s the weekend, you can indulge, it’s not like you can’t afford it.” What’s interesting, however, is when it’s not so obvious and you give into these pressures without even realizing it … especially when you’re in a casual, comfortable environment surrounded by your friends. Stay strong! A good response can be, “yeah, I know I can afford it, but I’m choosing to eat healthy and today is not my cheat meal.” Simple as that.
An even more subconscious influence is mirroring others’ behavior. It’s like silent peer pressure. Haven’t you ever wondered why you and your friends tend to choose similar type of plates when you order at restaurants? Even if you go with the intention of eating healthy, when someone orders the burger and fries, it gives you the “license,” “free card,” “allowance,” to then order the same … or something else similarly high in calories. I think we’ve all been there! So the trick is to get there first and order a healthy option right away!
5. Speed Eaters
In this high-paced world, everything is expected to be instantaneous, even how quickly our plates disappear. Do you know in Europe, the average dining experience is around 2 hours with smaller plates throughout the course of the meal. It’s social and forces you to take breaks between stuffing your face. In the U.S. the average time is around 45 minutes and that’s a server pushing for you to have an appetizer, bread, a dinner plate AND dessert. All in 45 minutes! YIKES. Lots of food in a short amount of time! In Europe, things have shifted towards a more American lifestyle and it’s no surprise that there’s now an obesity problem there. So if your friend shovels food in her mouth quickly, you’re more likely to do the same. So SLOW DOWN. Be the example. And I bet you’ll feel surprisingly satisfied with food rather than “full.”
6. Couch potato status
As you’re working on building a lifestyle (which is why I hope you read my blog!), you are moving towards more activity on a daily basis. So if one friend wants to sit on the couch all weekend and binge on movies (or go drinking all the time) and another wants to play beach volleyball or go paddle boarding, who do you think you will more freely support your fitness goals? A study in the Journal of Public Economics suggests that poor physical fitness is contagious among friends. It’s up to you to be good influencer now! Set up a walking/running/gym date after work instead of a happy hour trip to the bar.
7. They are drama queens
As women, we are already highly prone to emotional eating. When we are surrounded by someone (or multiple people) who are constantly in turmoil, complaining, or have a permanent cloud over their heads it can be completely emotionally draining. Sometimes they push their responsibility on you. That is a formula for disaster that can not only influence you to dig into some comfort food, but can ultimately be detrimental to your relationship. Create clear relationship boundaries where you can be a supportive friend, but not become their life-fixer for every single problem. We are responsible “to” others, not “for” others. It’s important we all know the difference between the two.
8. The infamous social media high reels
We all know this. We all tend to show our best selves on social media. You know, the kind that takes exotic vacations, has the perfect relationships, eats at hot new restaurants, and has all the friends in the world. And although we KNOW it’s all high-reel status, it still can impact us negatively if we are still working on strengthening our inner confidence. If you are constantly seeing your friends looking healthy, happy, fit, and doing fabulous things with their lives … it might just prompt you to question your life, decisions and situation. We start playing the comparison game and festering in our own misery. And there’s a study to prove it. In 2013, the Journal of Consumer Research found that following your friends on Facebook can be correlated with a higher BMI. This is possible because “stalking” your friends and playing the comparison game can trigger emotional responses that could lower your confidence, which then lowers your self-control. Social media is still a wonderful source to stay connected. But keep your emotions in check and remember your (and their) reality along with the amazing progress you’re making!
Your friends and family love you. It may seem they don’t want you to succeed, but 9 out of 10 times it has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them. People are afraid of change and having a feeling of disconnection from something familiar. They know you based on the way you are now. When they start seeing a major shift (that they’re not a part of), it’s a reminder that they are not making changes in their own lives that they want – or know they should. Plus, they’re afraid that you may drift apart from each other. By making a conscious effort to remind them what they mean to you is a great way to help minimize friction. Also, continue to invite them to join you, while also creating healthy boundaries if they decide not to (or if they continue criticizing).
If you, yourself, start playing the comparison game or start critiquing others, ask yourself why? Often times when we feel jealous/insecure is when we see something in others we admire or want to achieve. Figure out if that “thing” is something you truly want in your life, if it fits within your current life priorities and if it will ultimately make you happy to achieve. Sometimes we realize we don’t even want that – and then it become a HUGE RELIEF! If it is something you truly want to accomplish, then evaluate how you can take proper action to make it happen in your own unique way. We are all different!