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6 Ways to Overcome Peer Pressure

Pleasing Others May Derail Your Weight Loss Efforts

“Go on, live a little – have some chocolate,”

“You’re too rigid”, “I baked this myself – please have some?”,

“Sure, what harm can a couple of chips do?” or

“You can’t keep up this no drinking lark for too long – sure where’s the fun in that?”

Some of this is very well meaning and loving, but it can sometimes come from a place of jealousy or threat. The main thing is not what motivates them to say it; it’s our response that matters.

Sometimes it might be our partners or friends pressurising us, or it may be work colleagues. Regardless of who is saying it, remember to see it for what it really is – peer pressure. It can make it seriously difficult to stay on course with our weight loss efforts. After all, none of us want to appear difficult, uptight or strange in front of our friends or family so often we give in, despite having changed our habits and behaviours. In fact, our tastes often change so dramatically that we no longer even want that same drink or food, yet we still give in to please others (only to regret it later). Isn’t it time we pleased ourselves?

Take a Look Around You

Like it or not, our peers actually have a significant influence on our habits around food. One study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved 12,067 people who were closely followed for 32 years, from 1971 until 2003. The research showed that we are 57 per cent more likely to gain weight if our friends are overweight or obese. Behaviours and social norms can be at play here, for instance, with the mindset of ‘Sure they are overweight, so what harm can it really be’.

These pressures to fit in start very young. In children as young as age two, peer influence has been shown to play a significant role in food choices and preferences. A study published in Child Development showed that preschool-aged children model their eating behaviours on the behaviours of their peers. When a pre-schooler with a strong dislike for a vegetable was seated with peers who had a strong preference for the same vegetable, the pre-schooler was significantly likely to alter food preferences over time and eventually select the initially disliked vegetables. So, peer pressure can work in a positive way too (see point 5 below!).

6 Ways to Overcome Peer Pressure

  1. Commit to taking personal responsibility: not just for your weight overall, but also for those specific, every day decisions that all add up, such as deciding to avoid alcohol by driving to an event, or vowing to eat a healthy, high protein meal when everyone around us is choosing the less healthy options in a restaurant. It’s taking responsibility and then not being afraid to stand alone.
  2. Have realistic goals: if your goal feels too far away, or too unrealistic, it’s far too easy to be swayed away from good intentions ‘just this once’ but we forget that all those healthy choices do add up over time. Keep your goals close and do-able.
  3. Be assertive/practice saying ‘no’: I have a friend who does this with the utmost confidence and self-assuredness, yet she still manages to be polite. If you ‘um and ah’ over an offer, they’ll sense your ambiguity and will try to cajole you to eat or drink what they want you to. Practice saying ‘no thank you’ in front of the mirror or in the shower and then do it for real, with a smile. This is part of the ‘new you’ that they will have to get used to. It’s time to stop worrying about offending everyone – you can be polite, yet firm.
  4. Know your ‘why’: your motivation is key in all this. If you’re on a weight loss programme to fit into a bridesmaid dress, or to look good on your summer holidays, that can be strong enough to carry you through to a certain date but then, after that, it all falls apart. Find out your ‘why’ by asking deeper questions such as ‘what do I want my life to look like?’ and ‘How would my life be better if I waved a magic-want and was at a healthier weight tomorrow?’ Read more about your ‘why’.
  5. Become an influencer: you can’t always surround yourself with people who are healthy. But don’t be afraid to discuss healthier behaviours and thinking patterns among those around you. They may well be inspired by success you have achieved around discipline and self-control in order to lose weight.
  6. Always think ahead: look at the restaurant menu online before you go there and decide what you want to order in advance. Be one of the first to order and others at the table may follow your healthy choices. Or they may not – it doesn’t matter, as long as you are being true to your goals and your intentions, and not trying to bend to please others or ‘fit in’ like you used to.

“Be who you are, and say how you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind” – Dr Seuss

Your Success is a Threat to Some

Many people have tried and failed to accomplish what you are trying to do. For those people, seeing you succeed is hard for them because it can make them feel like failures. But we all learn from our mistakes and, if they were more open and less defensive, they could probably see this, but they often cannot due to their own limitations.

For many, it’s much easier to justify in their mind that following a healthier diet and exercising is just too hard, instead of admitting that it’s their own lack of drive, motivation, planning, or organization that led to their failure. In some cases, it may actually be the fact that they are so lacking in support, which is where we can be of significant help with our coaching support.

Watch this: learn how other people affect your habits, and you affect theirs in this interesting video from author Gretchen Rubin.

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