Here's How Your Friends Influence Your Weight

Friends can be one of the biggest influences, especially when it comes to the way you eat. It's easy to indulge in just one more drink or a dessert if your friends are doing it, too. But can your friends also help you keep the weight off? Here are five ways your pals play a role in what you consume:

They bring the party. People are more comfortable at the dinner table if everyone's eating similar foods. When your friends order fries instead of salad, you probably will, too. If they're sticking to lower-calorie foods, however, you'll likely make similar choices. The same goes for alcohol. If everyone else is drinking water, coffee, and soda, you're not likely to go against the grain and order a martini.

Healthy tips:

  • Know your limits, and stick to them.
  • Ask your friends for support.

They take you out on the town. Dining with friends often means eating at restaurants instead of at home. This makes it harder to control portion size and calorie counts.

Healthy tips:

  • Study the menus at your local hangouts and find the foods most likely to support your healthy diet.
  • Ask your waiter to serve only half your dinner at the table and box the rest to go.
  • Plan your get-togethers around activities instead of food, and encourage your friends to do the same.

You copy their portion sizes. A 2009 Arizona State University study showed that people tend to mimic their dining companions when it comes to choosing portion size, even when they have dramatically different body types and caloric needs.

Healthy tips:

  • Learn about appropriate portion sizes and food choices at the USDA's website.
  • Choose foods and portions that are appropriate for you.

They keep you company. With 2/3 of the American population now considered overweight or obese, it's become more acceptable to consume more and weigh more. If most of your friends, family, and coworkers are overweight, it will be more acceptable to you to be overweight, too. However, if you hang with a thinner crowd, you'll tailor your eating and fitness habits to fit in.

Healthy tips:

  • Cultivate new friendships with physically fit people (by joining a gym, hiking club or fitness class) and emulate those peers.
  • Persuade your closest buddies to get fit with you.

They bring peer pressure. When you're on the fence about whether to order the chocolate cake and your friends says, "go for it, you've had a tough day, you deserve it," chances are you'll cave in. If, however, they say, "don't do it, you'll regret it," chances are you'll step away from the dessert table.

Healthy tips:

  • Ask your friends to help you stay on track when it comes to your diet and fitness goals.
  • Return the favor by doing the same for them.



USDA Choose My Plate -

Harvard Health Publications
Harvard Medical School
How your friends make you fat-the social network of weight

Posted May 24, 2011, 12:53 pm
Christine Junge, Editor, Harvard Health Publications
Watching Your Weight? Beware of Skinny Friends With Big Appetites