It happens to the best of us. You maintain a strict habit of exercise and dieting throughout the week. You're disciplined. You're organized. You've got this. Then the weekend approaches and it’s time for date night, or the much-needed opportunity to catch up and hang out with your friends. You, believing you are being a good healthy-eating planner, check out the restaurant's menu online beforehand to pick out a reasonably healthy meal and drill this motivational speech into your head:
"I will not overindulge tonight."
And this time, you're serious.
That is, until you hear what your friends are ordering. And before you know it you’re ordering a side of French fries AND a slice of cake to go.
What just happened?
Turns out, according to the World Health Organization, your friends' eating and health decisions have a huge impact on your own health. A recent study conducted by the Edelman Health Barometer found that 40 percent of people admitted that their friends and family have a major impact on their own health and lifestyle. This puts your friends into the same category as determiners of your health alongside with your genetics and your income level.
It's a big deal.
I remember when I was 18 and going away to college. My family used to joke and say, “Watch out for the Freshman 15!” I just shrugged it off and didn’t think much about it because weight was never much of an issue for me. One year and 40 pounds(!) later (I love food, what can I say?) I was paying much closer attention to their warnings, and desperately looking to get back in shape.
However, that was a lot easier said than done.
Teaming up with a friend who belonged to the same gym as I did was nice, and theoretically helpful. But I found myself not committing 100 percent. Why? Well, on the days she would bail on our workouts (for whatever reason), I would find myself making up reasons why I didn’t need to go either. Convenient, right?
When I would go out and saw my friends ordering all the dishes I wanted to order, I would try to justify that I had worked out that day (or the day before, whatever) and therefore, deserved a treat. Didn't I? The upshot, of course, was that my mission to lose weight was a lot more challenging than I had ever imagined. Clearly, my easy teen years were behind me, and a new day had dawned.
I was not amused.
Still continuing to go out with my friends, (did I mention I was also a smoker?), I ate whatever I wanted, and smoked like it was going out of style. My friends didn’t seem to encourage me to get healthy or begin to tell me that my habits needed some adjusting. It was almost like they wanted me this way, and if I failed it made them feel better about themselves too. Exercise seemed like a chore and I felt myself slipping even further from my goals. A year passed and I was at the unhealthiest point of my life.
Thinking that I was untouchable, like most 20 year-olds, I didn’t realize how bad my health had gotten until I started noticing symptoms of fatigue, chest pains and high blood pressure. Knowing that heart disease and high blood pressure run in my family, I knew I shouldn’t ignore these signs.
Walking into my doctors office and stepping on the scale, I immediately began crying. Not only was I not feeling right, but the weight gain completely put me over the edge. After giving me a lecture on how to change my unhealthy habits, and being told that I should know better with my family’s history, my doctor didn’t hesitate to order an EKG, Stress tests and blood work. Test after test after test…and I was only 20, what would it be like in another 10 years? It was then that I realized this is not the way I want to live the rest of my life.
Change for the better.
I finally got it, that it was me and only me that could change and the people that I was surrounding myself with weren’t the best influences. I slowly began to break away from friendships that weren’t benefitting me anymore. It sounds terribly harsh, but I needed to be strong, and smart enough to determine the lifestyle I wanted to live. I ditched the cigarettes cold turkey (I’m never going through that again), and began hanging out with more people who were healthier, happier and had the habits I wanted.
I began getting back into sports (I had been an athlete for all my life up until college), making routine trips to my gym and cooking for myself instead of going out. I’m not saying that it will be easy (because it wasn’t at all), but the most rewarding thing is seeing progress within yourself; in your mood, your strength and your appearance.
My transformation didn’t happen overnight either. It took me years to get to where I am today. Even now at the age of 23 and at a much healthier weight, when I do decide to go out for dinner, I still hear those counter arguments within my head. I now believe to be strong enough to notice when peer pressure is happening and give myself a reminder down memory lane of what my lifestyle used to be and tell myself again the reality that I need to hear.
Set your own goals.
Even though it can be nice to have a friend join you on a new diet or exercise plan, at the end of the day it’s yourself that you're trying to improve and you need to set your own goals. You have to be able to make your own healthy decisions, especially when it comes to food and exercise habits. I’m not saying you need be at the gym seven days a week, or that you can’t indulge every once in a while. It becomes a problem when you are no longer helping yourself in the ways that you had originally planned.
Copycatting has its benefits if you choose your target wisely.
When meeting up with friends, do you really want to be the only one who orders a pasta dinner with extra garlic bread while everyone else orders a salad? Mirroring has its ups, if and only if, they are the better choices. Think about your healthiest friend and try to imagine "What would Rachel, Jason, Katherine, Melanie, (insert healthy friend's name here) do?" Research has found that you are capable of picking up healthy behaviors from your friends, just as easily as you can adopt their unhealthy behaviors.
Stay Cool Under Pressure
Whether it’s your friends, or even your own mind, trying to convince you that you can ditch your diet plan, keep calm and eat well. You will feel a lot better (your waistline and mirror will thank you later) if you stick with your plan and ignore the peer pressure. Or, give into it. If they have behaviors and habits you'd like to emulate.
The choice is yours.