How Does Peer Pressure Affect Our Food Choices? 

Dr. Christopher McGowan
junio 5, 2023

Eating food is a basic human need, but it is also a social activity that we engage in every day of our lives. We regularly eat with friends, family members, or coworkers, and their opinions undoubtedly have an impact on our eating habits and food preferences. This kind of peer pressure can be a powerful force, and it can lead to us making both healthy and unhealthy food choices. Our perception of social norms and how we are perceived in our various social networks are perhaps even more powerful when we’re trying to lose weight.  

Eating as a Social Activity  

While it’s normal for some (if not most) meals to be eaten alone, they tend to be utilitarian experiences that we sprint through just to move on with our day. But in the long sweep of human history, all cultures and nationalities have developed countless traditions around sharing a meal. Whether it’s a big feast day like Thanksgiving, a special occasion like a birthday, or one of the many family dinners that happen weekly, our eating behaviors are significantly shaped by who we’re eating with and what their preferences are. 

Even outside of shared meal times with family or friends, eating has become a shared experience with a much wider array of people. In recent years, this is largely due to the kind of peer influence found on social media platforms. But the impact of social media doesn’t just affect adolescents anymore; adults and young people of all ages have collectively placed a lot of power into the hands of influencers who make content that promotes healthy eating, unhealthy eating, and everything in between.   

The Positive and Negative Effects of Social Influences 

It’s not hard to see how such social influences play out when selecting what you’ll eat. If a group of friends decides to go out for pizza, for instance, a person worried about weight gain might be concerned about the relatively high calorie count and saturated fat that are associated with pizza. But will this person decide to have a salad when everyone else is scarfing down deliciously greasy slices of pizza? Conversely, imagine a scenario where everyone wants to eat healthy and you want a big, fatty cheeseburger; would you still order it if you’re the only one? 

Peer pressure related to any kind of health and fitness topic can be intense, and it can lead to outcomes that are either in line with or contrary to one’s own eating habits. In this sense, they can be thought of as either positive or negative effects of social influences. The negative effects are easy to see; when a coworker brings in a sugary dessert to share, for example, you may feel very real pressure to participate. One piece of cake on one day isn’t going to make a difference in your health, but if it becomes a regular thing, you might have trouble making other healthy choices during the rest of the day. 

On the other hand, peer pressure can also be a force that leads to healthy eating habits. The same set of coworkers that brought junk food may also include people who are passionate about healthy food. The fact is that more Americans are obsessed with body image than probably ever before, and this obsession has been driving worries about weight gain, obesity, and the public health consequences of what we eat. As a result, there are many societal influences in the public sphere that are sharing tips for how to eat and the kinds of lifestyle changes that lead to overall health and wellness.    

What Does the Research Say? 

In 2014, the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published a meta-analysis of 15 studies that looked into how beliefs about what other people are eating affects our own decisions. The researchers found that the evidence supported the idea that eating habits are indeed affected by social perceptions. The main social force driving this phenomenon appears to be the need to reinforce one’s identity as part of the social group; in other words, the pressure to fit in sometimes supersedes what we think is best. 

One only has to think about eating disorders to see the potential negative outcomes of these forces, but the research has also shown that the impact can be positive as well. A 2015 study, for instance, analyzed workplace behaviors related to food choices. The researchers found that participants who observed their coworkers eat fruits and vegetables were more likely to eat fruits and vegetables themselves. So even though peer pressure might lead us to eating too many sweets or too much fast food, it can also lead us to healthier options. 

How to Lose Weight in the Midst of Food Peer Pressure 

Between various types of social pressure and the ubiquitousness of advertising, it’s hard enough to simply make healthy food choices. It’s even harder, then, to make the kind of dietary and lifestyle changes necessary to actually lose weight. This is even harder in recent years as the prevalence of overweight and obesity (defined as having a BMI of 30 or more) has become all too common in America. Fortunately, though, there are some ways to forge ahead with your weight loss goals even in the midst of peer pressure:  

  • Have a plan: One of the biggest obstacles to any weight loss attempt is not having a solid plan or program. Weight loss is hard, and most people can’t do it without a framework to support it. Equipped with a clear meal plan or program, you’ll be better able to stick with it instead of caving to peer pressure.  
  • Eat before going out: For many people, eating out with friends and family is one of the hardest parts of dieting. Being out at a restaurant with all the sights and smells can make you forget your weight loss plans in a hurry. So rather than facing peer pressure on an empty stomach, you can eat first and you won’t be as hungry when everyone is loading up on foods you’re trying to avoid. 
  • Try just a little: Depending on the situation, you might be able to satisfy any social pressure to eat by taking a small bite of whatever food is in question. One bite of a high-calorie food isn’t going to ruin your diet, but it might remove the pressure to fit in with certain social expectations. 
  • Be open about your goals: All family and friend groups are different, but those closest to you are probably eager to support whatever goals you have for yourself. So if you’re open and honest about trying to lose weight, you might be surprised to find the social pressure to eat certain items dries up. 
  • Find a support group: In a similar vein, it’s also important to find support for your weight loss goals. This could be both members of a couple deciding to be on the same diet, but it could also mean joining a weight loss support group that can share the journey with you. 

Contact True You Weight Loss

As social beings, we’ll never be able to fully eliminate peer pressure to act a certain way or believe certain things. But peer pressure can be especially potent when it comes to dieting and weight loss. If, like most people, you’ve tried to lose weight but didn’t find much success, it may be time for a new approach. At True You Weight Loss, we offer state-of-the-art non-surgical weight loss procedures that are designed to help you find lasting success over the long run. If you’d like to learn more about how to finally find the freedom you’ve been looking for, please contact us today to solicitar una consulta.

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan
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