Often, the people around us make the difference between our ability to stick to a healthy lifestyle vs. do things that damage our bodies. Peer pressure is why many of us started smoking in the first place. Peer pressure is often why we make poor choices, such as binge drinking. And peer pressure is often why we relapse and start smoking again.
It’s well known that if you’ve just quit smoking – but family members and friends are still puffing away around you – it’s going to be difficult to continue abstaining. The constant exposure to the sight of someone taking a drag and the smell of smoke are all too tempting.
Peer pressure and dieting
Same thing goes for dieting. If you’re sitting at the dinner table munching on some greens and boiled chicken while your family is indulging in deep dish pizza, bread sticks, soda, and dessert, you’re probably not going to last long.
A recent study presented at the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association’s annual meeting in Washington DC shows just how much peer pressure affects our food choices, both healthy and unhealthy.
In this well-done study, the author followed over 1500 patrons at a restaurant over a 19 week period, and analyzed their ordering patterns based on receipts. She discovered that when people ate in groups, they tended to order similar types of food, for better or worse. Those in groups where unhealthy fare was ordered were more likely to follow suit, while in groups where healthy dishes such as salads were ordered, others in the group were also more likely to order a healthier meal. This was even true if initially the person was more inclined to be dissatisfied with the healthy choice.
What should you do?
What does this mean for us? Whether you are trying to quit smoking or improve your eating habits, planning ahead is essential to ensure success. If you’re trying to quit smoking, try to have your friends or loved ones quit with you – perhaps with a friendly wager. If you’re trying to follow a healthy diet, then make it a family affair. Even thin people shouldn’t be constantly indulging in junk food. When at work, a business meeting, or simply hanging out with friends, it can become a bit trickier. Perhaps you can have peer pressure work towards your favor by ordering first, which, as the above study suggests, may “force” others to follow suit. In addition, it doesn’t have to be black and white. If your friends are all ordering double cheese burgers, fries, and sodas, and you’re too shy to order the dietetic special on the menu, then perhaps order a single burger with no cheese and a side salad or a soup instead of fries.
Ultimately, if you’re constantly surrounded by friends with poor habits, then it may be a good idea to hang out more with health-conscious people. I’m not suggesting that you dump all of your long-time buddies, only that you be mindful about the influence they have on your lifestyle choices. As the years roll on, you have to think about your own health and well-being.
(Image links to source: Daily Mail.)