Remember when we were younger: We dressed like our friends, listened to the same music, were involved in the same activities and had many similar habits. If our friends said something about our looks, teased us about our weight or made a snide remark about our outfit, we’d take notice and those comments would likely stay with us for a long time.
Maybe we’d throw that outfit in the back of our closet, so we’d never ever wear that ugly thing again. Maybe we started paying more attention to our looks, wondering why we had to look a certain way to elicit negative comments. Maybe we became much more self-conscious.
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Muhammad Talha
We also might’ve adopted our friends’ habits…If your friends starting dieting, did you? If your friends wanted a greasy meal at lunch, did you want it, too? If they refused to eat dessert, did you also sign the petition? If they started some silly (read: potentially dangerous) crash diet, did you? If your friends started exercising, did you get on the treadmill, too? One study found that adolescent girls influenced each other’s unhealthy habits, including dieting and extreme weight-loss behaviors.
But is it all that different now?
Do your friends still influence how you eat and exercise and how you feel about your body?
Morgan over at Healthy Girl wrote an excellent post about surrounding herself with supportive friends who help her “get sane about food and [her] body.” Today, she can exercise with her friends, exchange healthy recipes and savor dessert, too. But it wasn’t always like this: She recalls her experiences with a friend who didn’t have a healthy relationship with food and how this affected her. Morgan writes:
“A friend in the past was so restrictive about her food choices when we would eat together that it made me hyper-conscious and obsessive about what I was eating. I think I almost ate more because it made me anxious and I wanted to be the “relaxed”, “normal” one around food (even though inside, I wasn’t really). However, then I would just end up feeling guilty and badly that I hadn’t really listened to myself and own body.”
How to Put the Power Back Where It Belongs (i.e., You!)
If you think your friends have at least some influence over your own habits and body image, remember you do have control. It’s one thing if your friends help you build healthier habits and are supportive. But it’s another if your friends have their own unhealthy habits that may be impacting you.
This doesn’t mean you should try to change your friends. But it’s worth repeating that you do have a big say and a whole lot of power in how you react to others and what you choose to do. Here are some ways that may help you better understand your friends’ influence and give you some ideas about what you can do.
1. Consider the influence. Take some time to think about how your friends affect the decisions you make about your diet (i.e., food intake). Do they? Do they affect the way you feel about yourself and your physical appearance? If they do affect you, is it in positive or negative ways?
2. Change up the environment. Instead of meeting up in a restaurant, Morgan found another way to have fun with her friend, in a different environment. She writes, “This same friend was really fun to go shopping with, and upon realizing this, I would set up hanging out with her in a different context and it was a lot better.”
But what if your friend turns a shopping day into a fitting room fiasco with body-bashing comments galore? Try to find a different context where you both can have a positive attitude (most of the time) and foster your friendship. Maybe that’s by taking a walk, browsing the bookstore or enjoying a bike ride.
3. Talk it out. It’s hard to be objective and see how we impact the relationships around us. Even the most self-aware person can’t predict or pinpoint every time he or she may offend a loved one. So tell her. Explain to her how her body bashing is affecting you – and how it may be affecting her.
Without blaming your friend, talk to her about how she feels about herself, why she talks to herself this way, why she feels the need to diet all the time. Approach her with honesty and compassion. Her negative remarks may have deeper layers. Taking this opportunity to confront her in a gentle way can help her and your friendship.
4. Listen to your body and yourself. Sometimes, when friends order lighter fare at restaurants, say their dieting, talk badly about their bodies, we want to join in, too! Maybe we feel like if they’re dieting, then we should be also (“I’m way bigger than she is and she’s on a diet. Doesn’t that mean I need to be on one, too?”).
Before going with the pack, take a minute to listen to your body, and what you want. Are you hungry right now? Do you need more than a salad? Are you choosing a lighter meal because your friend is? Are your own emotions affecting your choice?
5. Change the subject. Negative body talk is contagious. When one friend starts spewing negative comments about her thighs or jelly belly, forget it. It’s a domino effect. Maybe you start bashing your body because you’d like to make your friend feel better, let her know that she’s not alone.
Also contagious is talk of calories, fat grams and dieting. I can’t eat that; it has so many calories. I can’t believe I just ate that piece of cake. It’s going straight to my thighs. I’m huge. Instead of joining in, try to change the subject. Imagine all the things you could be thinking and talking about with your friends that are so much more meaningful and positive than body bashing.
6. Say “so what.” Have your friends ever made mean comments to you, said something negative cloaked in a joke? I love this tip from Dara Chadwick in her fantastic book, You’d Be So Pretty If…: When her daughter is confronted with a mean remark, Dara has taught her to react with a simple “So what?”
She writes: “Now when someone tells [my daughter] she’s short or makes fun of her braces, she’s learning to tell them (and herself), ‘So what?’”
We can do the same with a friend who says something negative about us or herself (which may trigger your own body-bashing thoughts).
7. Spend more time with others. Remember that you have control over who you spend your time with. Surround yourself with people who love you unconditionally and who you trust.
Ask yourself: Are my friends supportive? Do they appreciate me for who I truly am? Do I feel good when I’m around them? Do they have a positive or negative effect on my self-worth as a whole?
“You have the power to recognize who helps you feel better about the things you are dealing with and who doesn’t and in what capacity you want individuals in your life. I also find that my food/body stuff is at its best (and sanest) when I surround myself with people who I know and trust like me for who I am and I don’t feel like I am pretending to be something I am not.”
8. Consider ending your friendship (or at least taking a break). If your friend isn’t supportive, makes mean remarks regularly and doesn’t seem to care about you very much, you might consider ending your friendship. Life is too short to be spending time with people who don’t appreciate you and only upset you.
Be kind to yourself and kick an unsupportive, generally mean friend to the curb. This might sound harsh, but if a “friend” doesn’t have your interests at heart, it’s time to part! (I promise the rhyming was unintentional.)
If you prefer to take a break, consider how your life and your feelings about yourself have changed since you’ve stopped hanging out with your friend. Are you feeling better?
Do your friends affect your eating and exercise habits? Do they influence your relationship with food and how you view your own body?
I’d love to get your feedback! I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend and enjoys a few fun days with supportive friends.