Avoiding Food Peer Pressure

by Ali on November 6, 2008

When you were at school, parents and teachers probably talked about “peer pressure” – the way your friends and other people your age exert influence over you. Although you probably wouldn’t do anything daft just because office colleagues egged you on, peer pressure is still a fact of life.

Do any of these situations sound familiar?

  • You’re making a real effort to cut back on sugary, unhealthy snacks, but a colleague has brought in home made cookies and is insisting you try one.
  • It’s Friday and everyone’s going out for lunch. You’re not especially hungry and really fancy a big salad. A couple of your workmates start telling you that you need to “eat properly”, and ask “you’re not on some silly diet, are you?”
  • One of the girls in your office is popping out to the shops on a “chocolate run”. She goes round the room asking everyone what they want. You’ve just had lunch, and you wouldn’t have been thinking about food until they put it into your head … but now you really fancy a mars bar…

There are two types of peer pressure that you need to deal with, internal and external pressure. In many ways, the first is harder to conquer!

Internal peer pressure

So what do I mean by “internal” peer pressure? I mean the urge to go along with the crowd, the part of us which thinks, “Since Bob’s having steak and chips, I will too, I don’t want to miss out.”

Internal peer pressure is what makes you reach for a cookie when everyone else is getting one, even though no-one’s asked or told you to join in. It’s what makes you order a salad when all the other women round the table are, even though you really want the lasagne.

It’s natural to take our cues on appropriate behaviour from other people. Experts think this is why, if you have a lot of overweight friends, you’re likely to become overweight too. On the flip side, it can also be why some offices seem filled with stick-thin women; everyone feels pressured into losing weight, whether they want to or not.

So how can you get round internal peer pressure? There are no easy answers, but a couple of things that help are:

  • Asking yourself “Do I really want this?” – or are you just joining in with everyone else?
  • Reminding yourself that it’s fine to be different.
  • Practising going against the crowd; everyone else is digging into the chocolates, but you don’t. All your colleagues seem to be on some faddy new diet, but you’re sticking with your long-term healthy eating plans.

External peer pressure

The more obvious form of peer pressure is external. This happens when someone says, “Oh, go on, have a cookie, one won’t hurt.” Or, worse, “Don’t you want to try one of my cookies? I spent the whole of yesterday evening baking them.”

It’s easy to feel manipulated or pressured into something we don’t want to do. Practise saying “no” to people. That might mean learning how to (gently) turn down a cookie. It might mean having the confidence to say “I’m not eating chocolate at the moment.” If people get nosy about your diet, or if they start demanding to know why you ate a cookie on Tuesday if you’re not eating one today, then simply say something like, “Don’t worry about me, I know what I’m doing!” and change the subject.

Remember that your body, your diet and your health are your concern (and perhaps your doctor’s) – it’s nosy and even rude of other people to pester you about these things.

  • Don’t go on a diet just because someone in the office suggests that you should join their weight-loss group.
  • Don’t feel that you have to “give in” and have a cookie when everyone else is. Get into the habit of saying “no thanks” straight away – habits are stronger than willpower!
  • Don’t look for excuses. I know that it’s easy to blame other people if you’re overweight, but ultimately, you’re the only person putting food into your mouth.

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