You eat right. You exercise on a daily basis. You don’t smoke, drink or do drugs. You get plenty of sleep each night (or at least try to). For the most part, you are leading a model lifestyle when it comes leading the healthy lifestyle that many cannot seem to achieve. Sure you have fun every once in a while and splurge on the occasional unhealthy indulgence, but when it comes down to it you are conscious about your everyday decisions. Now, what about your friends? They say opposites attract. Perhaps, some of your closest friends are polar opposites when it comes to taking care of their health. Could this be influencing your health?
When it comes down to it, eating has a tendency to be a social event. As a teenager, you may have bonded with your friends over pizza, cookies, nachos and fast food at sleepovers and at Friday night football games. Then you moved onto college, beer, Ramen noodles, pizza and the glorious cafeteria food became a way of life. Now that you are all grown-up, food is still a way of rekindling old relationships and building new relationships. Dating, catching up with old friends, cocktail parties and business lunches/dinners are now your way of life. For some reason, whether you are young or old, eating is just what we do with our friends. Think about it: chances are you have grabbed a bit to eat with a friend at least once in the past couple of weeks.
Despite your normally healthy lifestyle, catching up with an old friend is likely something you’d never say no to; even if this means a 400 calorie cup of coffee or a double cheese burger off of the dollar menu (it never hurts to be economical sometimes, right?). Unfortunately when eating becomes a group activity, individuals who dine with their friends are much more likely to consume more. In fact, you may just be consuming over one-third more food than you would if you were to eat dinner solo. Having a thriving social life just may cause you to pack on the extra pounds or ruin your typically healthy routine.
Everyone knows a comfort eater. If you break-up with your significant other, lose a job or don’t do so hot on your latest chemistry exam, you may have a friend who is willing to help you deal with whatever the crisis at hand is. Unfortunately for the comfort eater, this generally means over-indulging. Ice cream, cookies, cake, dining-out and even alcohol can become a way of dealing with your pain or stress.
Speaking of alcohol, everyone also is likely to have a friend who loves to be the life-of-the-party. For your partying friend, a night out on the town is the ideal way to blow off steam and deal with all of life’s stresses. Alcohol helps to loosen your inhibitions, which may lead to increased and unexpected indulgences. Pizza, nachos, wings, chips and other bar foods always seem extremely appetizing after a few drinks. A night full of unhealthy food and alcohol can leave you feeling ill; especially if you are used to eating healthy. Another downfall of your party girl (or guy) friend is the exposure to second hand smoke, not to mention a lack of sleep from hanging out at the bar ‘til 2am when you know you have an early day the next day. For the ladies, a drunk (or tipsy) walk home or to your designated driver’s car in a killer pair of heels may also lead to injury. There is no greater way to top off an evening of unhealthy eating and drinking than to sprain an ankle on an uneven sidewalk (kidding). Injury can definitely put a damper on your fitness routine.
What can you do to avoid your friend’s unhealthy habits without avoiding your friends? First, find a new outlet to alleviate stress. Instead of indulging in food or binge drinking when things don’t go as planned, consider trying a new type of physical activity. Train for a 5k, sign-up for a new class at the gym or simply go for a walk. This is also a great time to invite a friend to join you. Not only will you and a friend (or friends) get in a great workout and bonding time, but working out with a buddy can help keep you motivated to give it your all.
To be perfectly clear, no one is saying you don’t deserve a night out with friends every once in a while. To help maintain your health while having fun, try to limit your partying days to only Friday or Saturday nights. If you are going to be eating, select only one appetizer to avoid overeating. When it comes to drinking, try to order a lower-calorie drink such as a glass of wine or a mixer with a diet coke. Ask for a glass of water as well. If you hold your alcoholic-beverage in your less dominant hand plus sip on water, you are less likely to drink too much. To be sure you don’t overdo-it on the drinking, volunteer to be the designated driver from time-to-time.
Who says friends and fitness can’t be mixed?