Home Health News What About Your Friends: Are They Helping Or Hindering Your Progress?

What About Your Friends: Are They Helping Or Hindering Your Progress?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

wtf343It’s kind of a logical conclusion. We are friends with the people within our circle because they are like us. We’re inclined to cling to people who make us comfortable in our own skin – our friends make us comfortable because when it comes to the things most important to us, we are all alike in that area. It makes sense to me.

What also makes sense is that when it comes time to change as a person, if our friends can’t accept that change or downplay/inhibit that change in some fashion, they should fall to the wayside… right?

So what happens when our friends are standing in the way of our growth as healthy individuals? Think about it. Do we get together over a jog, or over a giant Three-For-All (pictured above)? Do we get together and drink a six pack together, or do we go someplace…. where food isn’t involved? If I suggest that we get together over an activity, not a meal… is someone wondering, “Yeah, and can we stop at Chili’s? I’m starving!”

I think it’s a difficult realization to face – that the people we love might be enabling bad habits that are hazardous to our health. I remember my best friend – who actually models – and I always would get together for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and/or the bar. She started working out at a local gym, and I… went for 7 days. That was it for us and the gym thing. And eventually, the more in-tune she got with her health, the more time it resulted in her spending away from me. Phone time? I’ve got you covered. Otherwise, it wasn’t happening.

I can admit it now – her “healthiness” made me uncomfortable! It was a constant reminder of how unhealthy I was, and instead of telling myself “Yeah, she might lap me on the track but I’m good if I keep going,” I said “I’m not going to embarrass myself like this!” She would also tell you, that my friendship was bad for her health. We talked all the time, but we couldn’t hang – because I always needed food to be involved, for some reason. That’s just the way it was. We can joke about it now, but it’s an underlying issue in many friendships, I’d presume.

Enter this lovely article that I came across via Yahoo! discussing how our friendships impact our health. Taken from the article:

In the study, 130 kids ages 9 to 15 were allowed to snack as much as they wanted while hanging out with a friend or with a peer they did not know. All the kids ate more when they were with a friend than with a stranger. But the overweight children ate the most when paired with an overweight friend – an average of 300 more calories than when they spent time with leaner friends. The research also found that friendship itself makes the appetite grow stronger: when overweight kids ate with similar-weight kids who were already their pals, they threw back an extra 250 calories than when they ate with chubby kids they had just met.

If that wasn’t enough to make you raise an eyebrow, here’s a little more:

Socializing with overweight people can change what we perceive as the norm; it raises our tolerance for obesity both in others and in ourselves. It’s also about letting your hair down. Past research has shown that adults tend to eat more around friends and family than they do with strangers. They shed their inhibitions about how it looks when they go back for thirds or order the alfredo sauce instead of the marinara.

I’ve got one more that goes in line with what I mentioned earlier:

Finally, there’s the idea that we like to hang with people who are like ourselves. Cornell food sociologist Jeffrey Sobal explains that “especially among two overweight people, there’s a sort of permission-giving going on. We’re encouraging each other to eat more.”

So knowing this, what do we do? Do we start dumping our friends who are less healthy than ourselves? Do we begin to grow offended by the friends who might’ve faded out of our lives? Do we simply chalk it up to natural progression and look forward to experiencing our own?

I can honestly tell you, I don’t know. Almost ALL of my friends were in single-digit sizes. They all tried to help me, but I had to come to this conclusion about my self and my health.. on my own. With the logic in this article, I should’ve fallen by the wayside a long time ago.

However, their lack of desire to talk to me about health and fitness wasn’t helping me, either. It was almost as if it made them uncomfortable, or they were afraid to hurt my feelings. No lie, it probably would’ve hurt my feelings for sure. It enabled my bad behavior (not like they should be responsible for it in any capacity, anyhow.) It took my making friends who were as fitness focused as I eventually became to help me integrate my healthy habits into my life.

It took me seeing that people “really live this way” (and yes, I put that in quotation marks because that’s the exact quote I said to myself!) for me to accept that this was an option for me. It took me learning that people “really think about these things” when they order food. And sure enough, when I started to blindly and openly talk about these things with my friends, all of a sudden we started to have new conversations! About calories, cooking, health, fitness, exercise, yoga, junk food, everything! It was like they were keeping a part of themselves away from me because they didn’t want to hurt me. Sure enough, our friendships grew much better beyond that because we were able to bond over one more important part of our lives. I learned a lot of the things that I share in this blog from those relationships.

So, I say all of that to say this: If your friends are hindering your progress, don’t just fall back – if they’re in the same boat as you, talk to them and see if you all have the same concerns and are just afraid to bring them up. If they’re “not concerned” or “just trying to enjoy today,” then find more friends to share your fitness goals and experiences with… and serve as a role model for your friends who are in the same boat as you. You never know who you may inspire, or who may bond with you after they become inspired by your progress!

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Tracy October 11, 2009 - 1:23 PM

This article is SOOOO true!! I know several friends that can benefit from working out and eating healthier, but they don’t. It’s something that has to come from within. Until you are ready to commit, you will only sit around feeling envious of those who have started and begun to see progress. It happened to me. I would see friends start Weight Watchers or some exercise regimen and begin to drop pounds. It would motivate me to an extent, but not enough to get my butt to the gym… at least not consistently. Then, as they became more and more successful, I got more and more resentful. I also had a problem with a “skinny” friend. She was my bestie and could (and would) eat ANYTHING that she wanted without gaining weight. Silly me would be eating right along with her. Over time, I was gaining weight here and there, but *I* didn’t really notice. Everyone else did though! I was mad that my BEST friend didn’t bother checking my behavior and informing me that I was getting a little too chunky. Now, I’m struggling to get the weight off. Personally, I think it’s “crabs in a barrel” syndrome. Some of your “friends” don’t really want to see you get into better shape, as it will (1) take shine away from them or (2) highlight their own shortcomings. Misery loves company and fat people love to have other fat people to support their fatness. If you get healthier and slimmer, who will they have to be fat with?

julie January 10, 2010 - 2:07 AM

I’m having a confusing experience with a friend who had WLS, we were once the same size, then she gained about 100, and I lost 50. She’s not overweight anymore, but doesn’t absorb fat, so wants to eat pizza at 11 pm, doesn’t bother with veggies, and it’s weird to hang with her sometimes. I’ll go out and three of them will all get a sandwich after a few drinks, and I’ll just sit there. I love her dearly, but it trips me out. Plus she smokes a lot of cigarettes, and it makes me want to as well.

Chi Chi May 21, 2011 - 11:33 AM

It’s funny that you write this b/c it brings up what happens unconsciously. I used to have a roommate and she was smaller than me, but she was also overweight. After I moved into my own place, my father said to me “I’m glad you moved out from her, you just kept getting bigger.” Wow!! I couldn’t believe he said that, but I guess I never realized that I probably was more comfortable eating around her b/c she wasn’t so small either. I sure as hell knew wasn’t comfortable eating around my parents.

That being said, all of girlfriends for the most part have are on the smaller side and I can honesly say no one has ever spoken to me about my health or changing my eating habits. Now that I am taking control of my health and making better habits, I get a lot of praise and more consideration about where we should go out to eat and they don’t make a big fuss if I can’t make something b/c I’m working out, etc. Even now I think they are still afraid to talk to me about it, b/c even though I am losing weight, it still relatively new to my lifestyle.

The funny thing is, my male friends ask me all kinds of questions about what I’m doing, how much I do want to lose, how much have I lost and offer to work out with me.

Marion@affectionforfitness May 30, 2011 - 7:23 PM

What a great post! I used to feel mad and/or uncomfortable telling people, especially my husband, that I did not want to eat out at a restaurant. Restaurant food gets everyone fatter. I never want anything from the “rabbit menu.” I just didn’t like that whole situation.

So now I tell people that I am glad to keep them company when they eat at a restaurant–and then I don’t eat anything at all except ice water. Other times, when I do want the food, I split it 50/50 with one of my daughters. 50% is still plenty to be happy about. I’ve done this with friends too. We all feel classier and slimmer for it. And the bill is lower too.

Just as some of your friends and family can be bad role models, we can be good role models for them. My kids stopped drinking so much soda pop because I stopped and told them that I wanted to have good teeth when I’m older. My husband is eating oatmeal with banana chunks for breakfast each day because I cook it.

Who is going to change the people around you? Probably you–not some professional nutritionist who has a best-seller. Nobody who has bad food habits reads that kind of stuff.

🙂 Marion

Stefanie September 19, 2011 - 3:55 PM

Hmmm…good one. Well, I’m learning that the best thing to do is be myself. For example, this past Saturday, I went to my first kung fu class. And I had already planned to go to a friend’s house – she was making all sorts of tasty finger food. She also had fruit there. I can’t blame her that I picked up the fried chicken wings, sausage bites/etc, LOL. The option to make healthy choices, a lot of times, is around us. This friend of my is also overweight, plus her other friend that was there is too. So we all kind of enjoyed ourselves with no judging from the next woman. BUT, I was thinking ‘now I know I didn’t want to eat all of this, but it makes me comfortable; we should take a walk afterwards’. But I didn’t say it, I just stayed in my comfort zone.
I won’t blame my friends or family for the choices I make. But what I can do is when I want to get together with friends/family, invite them to do something non food related with me. And if they ask why, I’ll tell them in a loving way. If they love me (which I know they do) and more importantly if they want to enjoy life with me, then I think they’ll be open to try. If not, that’s ok. I won’t kick them to the curb. But my choices and theirs will make a path way for the correct direction of our relationship. I’ve learned that yes, I have lived a certain way a life for a long time. But I know there is a different lifestyle I want to live, and I have to be strong, for myself.

Mary Ann MacKay January 26, 2012 - 10:15 PM

It kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it? I mean, when I weighed over 300 pounds and people shied away from me, was it because they were afraid of being obese like I was?

How do we love everyone and accept them for who they are without letting them influence our actions? I can really understand that study with the children eating more when they are with friends. We are such social beings, who crave connection and common experiences. We also enjoy sharing, whether it be food, conversation of just good times.

Maybe the answer is to accept personal responsibility for my own actions, love and accept people as they are, and create situations to connect with them that don’t involve food or judgment. Sounds good, now I’ll go give it a try!

cpbkalltheway January 27, 2012 - 5:08 PM

Great article!!! This happened to me as well and i was the one who wanted to get in shape and take better care of myself. I have to say that unfortunately, I had no support from family or friends. Everyone thought I got to skinny and it made me feel a bit sad. Fast forward, i just gave birth and I’m trying to get back into shape, and my siblings and mom keep telling me why I’m so worried about my weight and plus, I’m breastfeeding. But i have a supportive, amazing husband who is down for whatever I decide to do and he knows I’m not happy with this size, so he told I better get the working out, lol. I think ppl do get somewhat jealous because they want the same drive and motivation as the person who wants.to get in shape but they are too lazy to do it. And when you have negativity around, it can make you feel like an outsider, like how I did before. And I felt,better hanging out with thinner ppl, I didn’t want that to happen but i was just fed up with the “skinny b*%ch” comments and” oh, there is nothing wrong with eating a real meal”. Lol, I can laugh it now becuz I’m much stronger and don’t give a crappy what ppl say but in the past it made me feel sad and horrible. But I’m different now. Good luck to anyone who is all about being healthy and taking control.

Vee March 8, 2012 - 10:03 PM

Great article!!!

spiderlgs May 25, 2012 - 4:16 PM

It’s interesting because years ago when I first graduated from college, I got really into health and working out. I was so disciplined in working out twice a day, eating right, all that jazz… and EVERYONE told me I was too skinny… Now… I know I wasn’t too skinny, but you get enough crazy stares, enough comments about what you are or are not eating.. enough nonsense about where did your butt go? and how nobody wants a bone but a dog.. and I remember I convinced myself that I was.. the first thing I ate was boneless wings from KFC and a Orange Crush… and I stopped working out as much… and I realize it was the dumbest mistake I ever made.. now 6 years later.. ive struggled to find the same dedication and I always worry about going home in case Im too skinny cause I don’t want to hear my entire (overweight) family discuss it.

Luckily, in my friend group now, almost everyone works out, or goes to the gym or is on that path… but there are tons of things I don’t discuss with my bigger friends.. and I think it’s interesting the idea that people wished that their health minded friends would have discussed it with them…for example.. today a friend who has discussed wanting to lose weight was eating pasta with alfredo sauce… I told her I didnt eat alfredo sauce… and she rolled her eyes…is that a time when I should discuss marinara sauce as a better option.. It just feels like a lecture.. and I know she knows that isnt healthy for her…

The best I know how to do is to focus on health instead of weight, and try to include more activity into our outings, sometimes they come.. sometimes they dont!

Shani Nicole August 17, 2012 - 2:39 PM

This is very true, I’ve noticed this within my own life but I’ve also found that sharing my experience and lifestyle has encouraged many as well especially people I share my life with on social networks

Amber December 17, 2012 - 11:19 AM

Just made a long reply and lost (ugh!)

I’m in the same situation with my family. Many of my family members are over-weight and our get-togethers ALWAYS center around found. The thing is I still do it too. I really don’t know how else or what else to do, especially something that doesn’t involve a lot of money. Now that you all are on this journey, what activities are doing when you get together with friends and/or family?

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