Going to Dinner With Friends? Don’t Let Peer Pressure Derail Your Healthy Eating

Enjoy both food AND friends by practicing mindfulness

Friends having dinner together at a restaurant

“Live a little!” “A salad? That’s no fun.” “Fries for the table!” When you’re faced with delicious but unhealthy food choices, peer pressure can make it difficult to stay the course with healthy eating.

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“Most times, the people who pressure you do it out of love — they want you to share their food and the feelings that come with it,” says psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD. “So it’s hard to say no to peer pressure.”

But it can be done. Whether you’re trying to make healthier choices or just want to march to the beat of your own drum, a little forethought is key.

Guess what? Your family and friends influence your food choices

Just like the flu, eating is contagious.

“We eat like others because we want to be the norm. We want to be like the people we are spending time with,” Dr. Albers explains.

“And it’s subtle. Studies have shown that people eating together even tend to chew at the same rate. They mirror the person they are with.”

That means if you hang with a crowd of indulgers, you’re more likely to overeat in order to fit in. It works the other way, too — you’re more likely to pass on that piece of cake if your friends do.

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“Who you eat with has a dramatic impact on what you order and how much you eat,” she says. “But if you become mindful of yourself and your habits, it’s easier to avoid following what everyone else is doing.”

Join the mindfulness movement

“Mindful eating is the polar opposite of peer pressure,” Dr. Albers says. “You use internal instead of external social cues to make decisions.”

To be a mindful eater, set your intentions before you begin eating — and then follow through one bite at a time. Stay present. Focus on all the sensations eating involves: how food tastes and how it makes you feel. Mindfulness can help you feel more satisfied and in control.

To do it:

  1. Decide how much you want to eat ahead of time. Be clear on your level of hunger and fullness.
  2. Follow through on your decisions, and don’t apologize for or explain them.
  3. Focus on how the food smells, tastes, sounds (is it crunchy?), looks and feels in your mouth or in your hands.

“Even paying attention to your rate of chewing helps you avoid unconsciously slipping into what others are doing,” Dr. Albers notes. “Look at how fast others are eating, and try to chew more slowly. If you are aware of what you need, that’s going to make a big difference.”

Practice makes perfect

If you have a hard time saying no to peer pressure, practice, practice, practice. Say, “No, thank you,” and, “I’m full,” in front of the mirror or in the shower. Repeat them until you sound and feel confident.

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“When they don’t roll off your tongue and you hem and haw, it’s easy for people to rope you in,” Dr. Albers says. “But if you say no in a way that’s confident and assured, people back off.”

Then, take your act live. Enlist a family member or friend to give you feedback on how you sound. The more you say no to unhealthy food choices, the easier it becomes.

Be a leader

Before you go to a restaurant, look at the menu and pick out what you want. Then, when girls’ or guys’ night rolls around, be the first to order.

“The first person to order often sets the tone for the table,” Dr. Albers says. “If you already know what you want, your choice is yours alone and not someone else’s.”

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