Wellness strategies have to consider our social environment. After all, you are not the sole determinant of what you eat. We are social animals and that means that our friends’ eating habits influence our own habits.

In other words, your weight isn’t only about you. It’s also about your friends, family and coworkers. We are social beings and easily persuaded by the habits of our friends.

Studies Show Wellness is Affected by Friends

Several prominent studies demonstrate the connection between wellness and that of our families and friends.

A well-known 2007 study done by Nicholas Christakis, of Harvard University, and James Fowler of the University of Pennsylvania found that if you have a close friend who is obese, your chances of becoming so as well increase by 57 percent, and if your spouse is obese, your chances are 37 percent. While the reasons for those surprising results may be complex, research proving the close relationship between friends and weight keeps accumulating.

When it comes to losing weight, the company you keep continues to makes a difference. According to a 2016 study by a Baylor University researcher, heavier people were more likely to successfully lose weight if their social circle included slimmer buddies.

A more recent study discovered that our friends influence our eating habits not only when we are together but when we are not.

  • Researchers put three friends into a room together and brought in a tray of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
  • Two of the participants had been told ahead of time not to eat the cookies.
  • So what did the third friend do? The same.
  • But here’s the interesting twist.
  • Afterward, the friends were put into three different rooms, each with a plate of the cookies, and the third friend still resisted them.
  • Study author Traci Mann, founder of the Health and Eating Lab at the University of Minnesota, explained the experiment this way: “People conform to groups and learn their habits from other people.”
  • Angela Murad, wellness dietitian at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living program agrees: “We typically seek out people who are similar to us. And we find that our patients really struggle with social activities that involve eating. That’s partly because we are usually not being active when we dine out, and meals often include alcohol, which is high in calories and diminishes our awareness of how much we are consuming.

In other words, bad habits may be contagious, but good habits can be, too. Here’s how to use that fact to your advantage.

Wellness Strategies That Work

Here are some wellness strategies that have been shown to be effective.

·         Prepare for meals with friends, family and colleagues

Staci Lupberger, Weight-loss programs manager at the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center says that:

  • We have to set ourselves up for success, so the main thing we tell people who are trying to lose weight is to plan ahead.
  • She advises visualizing what the menu or buffet table is going to look like and what choices you are going to make.
  • You can even pull up the menu online ahead of time so you already have an idea of what to order.
  • What often happens is you feel pressure to eat like those around you.  
  • In a lot of our programs, we talk about assertive communication — speaking up for oneself — and how to practice those habits.
  • If it’s a family situation — say, you have in-laws who are great cooks and might be insulted if you don’t eat their food — be pleasant, thank them, but say you’d prefer to stick to the healthier options.
  • Once a person starts feeling better and losing weight, it helps them deal with those situations better.”

·         Join a social network that promotes healthy eating

You might find a Meetup group that walks three times a week or a healthy-eating program organized by a local hospital. Or find an online support group. It’s a lot easier to accomplish something if you have support than it is to do it alone.

·         Come up with alternate activities — or alternate friends

If you find that with certain friends, you are always eating out, be an influencer and suggest other ways of being social rather than going out to eat. That may mean visiting a museum, going to a concert or walking in the park. If you want time to sit down together, suggest getting tea or coffee, instead of a meal.

·         Don’t be shy about bringing your own food

The default for most office environments is high-carb, simple-sugar, high-fat snacks, so we talk to people about bringing in fruit, whole-grain snacks and other healthier options to work and kind of set the tone.

If you are going to a friend’s house, say, for a football game, offer to bring healthier options like vegetables and hummus, and limit yourself to smaller portions of the not-so-nutritious options.

·         Eat more mindfully

You’ve heard of the French paradox? The French eat cheese and drink wine, but guess what else they do? They mindfully eat. In the U.S. everyone’s in a hurry. So turn off telephones, don’t eat while surfing the internet or sitting in front of the television, and make meals a sacred time.

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