If you have seen this GoofyGrub blog post (Your Weight Loss Will Help Me, Too!) about how my weight gain or loss has the potential to affect yours, especially if we are good friends, then perhaps you are already starting to figure out how this can affect food choices beyond just weight control.
If I suddenly have to go on a modified diet, say because I learn I have food allergies or because I discover my gut is a mess because I have celiac disease, how will my ability to stick to my new regime be affected by my friends? Or how will I, in turn, affect my friends’ food choices?
I haven’t spent half a million dollars testing my theory like Christakis and Fowler did for theirs, although I’d love to! (Anyone out there willing to fund me?) But everyday life suggests this to me: that folks who have to eat differently than everyone else, whatever the reason, find it really, really hard to stick to it. Besides cravings, I think that the social isolation that results from not participating in one of the most primal forms of social interaction, that of eating communally, is one of the biggest and yet most invisible barriers to success.
Here’s one example. How many people do you know who have been told to eat differently or risk becoming a diabetic? I know several. How many of those folks start out great, and after three or four months have noticeably lost weight and are starting to look terrific? They seem brighter, healthier, and more energetic, as well as trimmer. It’s wonderful to see!
But another six months later, how are they doing? This isn’t true for everyone, but it is for some: they look like they did nine months before. I ask them how it’s going, feeling a little concerned. They say that they were doing great, but that it was so hard to keep it up, and they let it slip a little. They seem stressed. They seem defeated. They seem sad.
When I dig a little deeper, nearly always it’s not the WHAT to do that defeated them. They were figuring that out and were doing great! It’s the HOW to keep doing it while swimming against the social stream.
I struggle with that question nearly everyday, too, as I work to avoid the foods that make me sick. In fact, if my consequences weren’t so closely connected, if I didn’t find my heart pounding, my hands swelling, my cough reappearing, my overwhelming need to lie down and go to sleep after I eat something that is bad for me, I would choose to be part of the group feast, too. I want to eat pizza at the work-bee party, too <stomping of foot>! I don’t like feeling left out! If I didn’t have to “pay” for that pizza slice so directly, if, instead, the effects didn’t show up for a few weeks or months, well, why not have a piece “just this one time?”
So, what can we do to use our social network to help us? Maybe they can even help us improve our chances of success by 57%!
I’ll take all the help I can get.
PS – One of my goals with GoofyGrub is that this site will eventually have enough information resources to help our friends know how to help us, and we them, too! Any thoughts?