Humans are innately social beings. The people that surround us are a major influence on our thoughts and decisions. What we hear, see and feel effect our thoughts, which largely shape our actions and there is simply no way to avoid it. As independent as you think you might be, we are all connected in a larger consciousness with evolving societal norms.
Guideline: Actively manage your social environment, not just yourself.
Sharing food and stories together is an amazing part of that human experience and should certainly not be eliminated in fat loss efforts. Your social life simply needs to be managed to harness the positive aspects and repel the negative ones. It could mean not going out with your pub or fast food fanatical friends as often. It could mean inviting people over for dinner parties, where you control the food, versus always accepting invitations out to high calorie restaurants. In general it means spending less time around those people and places that continually test your will power and sabotage your healthy lifestyle and finding more people who support it. Instead of relying on pure will power to change your behavior in social situations that are pushing unhealthy foods/drinks, identify them upfront and find ways to adjust them or avoid them all together. It is very similar to alcoholics having to make a conscious choice to break from their typical bar outings and find other healthier things to do. You cannot control your friends so some will be supportive and others won’t but all that does is sort out the ones that were worth anything in the first place.
Strategy: At social events don’t waiver on your chosen food/drink intake.
Social pressures to eat and drink too much, especially decadent foods that were prepared for guests to enjoy, are as old as time and common to us all. Some people’s jobs and families require them to be at social events all the time, which presents several challenges to anyone trying to lose fat and/or maintain a healthy diet, including: open bars/buffets, force-feeding mothers, old drinking buddies, over the top sales dinners, family stress eating/drinking, cheese and chocolate, etc. For some reason people always ask questions of and put pressure on the person that is not pigging out on cake or not pounding beers like they are water. It’s partially a fear of not belonging if we all aren’t doing the same thing and partially a dominance thing. Frankly it is childish, but it happens often, this is the negative side of social power. The key though is to be clear, direct and stalwart in your first encounters with this and people will back off. I find that when I tell people I simply like the healthy items more or don’t feel like drinking, they back off. Versus saying something like “I’m trying to eat health” or “I’m on a diet” in which people are quick to respond “Oh one X won’t hurt you, come on.” Strong, decisive language like “I don’t” is key versus weak words like “I am trying”. If people see you wavering at all on your choices they will double their efforts to break you in their dominance game. Lastly, as you gather more healthy people around you, the social pressures will flip and the food prepared will change to be in support of you.
Strategy: Share your life with everyone to enroll people in your success.
Sharing with peer groups is one of the most powerful tools we have to help induce and sustain individual change and the best part is it’s free. Studies show people are more successful in fat loss/healthier eating when they have the support of others, particularly spouses/family. When people can genuinely connect with other people on issues of importance it helps them change behaviors from debilitating ones to healthy ones. Simply look at the approach of addiction programs and weight watchers; there is a lot to be learned from them. If nobody knows your goals, nobody can support you, so tell everyone!
When your will power fails, and it will, you need people there to keep you honest and focused on the goal, suggesting new strategies and being encouraging. To quote the title of success guru, Keith Ferrazzi’s best selling book, “Who’ Got your Back.” As Keith talks about, most people are very uncomfortable sharing personal struggles, but when they do the magic starts to happen. The pressure to do it alone is relieved, we feel empowered by the team mentality and things start changing almost by themselves. We need to have some trust or safety zone established so a quick way to get that is by sharing first with your family and friends. It is easier to stay on track when those around you are making them too and frequently talking about it to keep you accountable. Joining a peer group for fitness like our boot camp was an amazing choice.
Exercise: Identify your top 3 fitness support people and your top 3 social situations for over eating/drinking.
You might be surprised that your top 3 supporters are not the 3 people you are closest too, they may not even be your partner/family. If you are not already close with them, I highly recommend immediately making an effort to solidify the relationship with a social phone call or invite as they are extremely important to your success. You should use the topic of your fitness efforts and ask them to help keep you honest and even identify the social situations that sabotage your eating together.