Fattening Friends

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By: Rachael E . Schindler PhD, MA, MS, CAI, CPT

As both an exercise and scuba diving enthusiast, one thing rings true for both, buddies make it better! As with many other things in life, friends can help you along in a variety of ways. I know that for many years the Lucille Roberts fitness chain would advertise, “Join with a friend for less”, since studies showed that a person is more likely to continue with an exercise program when doing so with a partner. Even with scuba diving, PADI, a certifying agency, promotes it as a fun, buddy sport! Eating (another one of my favorite pastimes) is a major social experience as well. We eat with our families and friends, even just as an activity. But are there times where friends can thwart your health goals, especially with eating? You know, you say to yourself, “I had to make all those heavy, rich dishes since I’m having company on Shabbat”, or, “That’s what we do on Saturday night. We eat, with friends. Again. At night.” Recent research has shown that you consume 35% more calories eating with a friend than eating solo. What can you do if your friends are making you fat?

Let’s say you are depressed about something, or angry, or hurt and you call up a friend or two and they come right over or meet you at the ice cream store for some chocolate concoction. Studied have shown that when men are depressed they are more likely to have drinking mates and women are more likely to have eating buddies who enable them to eat more and more.

So what should you do? Don’t just graze ‘n gripe! At least, graze-gripe, ‘n WALK! That’s right! Exercise not just your mouths, but your bodies. Many studies have shown how mild to moderate exercise a couple of times a week dramatically reduces symptoms of depression and keeps it at bay. My own extensive dissertation concluded that mild to moderate exercise, 4 times a week for about a half hour was optimal at not only reducing depression and anxiety but in raising the perceived quality of life of the person. Exercise not only lightens our depression by giving us a, “runner’s high”, it also makes us feel good and more optimistic and positive about life in general.

What if you are the type of person that just likes to eat in groups or with company Some people wind up eating more than they wanted to just because they “Had to order something”, or, “I couldn’t resist. It just looked good”. They let go because they see that their friends are and it feels like they have permission to do so especially in a group setting because the atmosphere is festive. You know, how sometimes you are out to dinner with friends and you wind up eating dessert even though you were full and really didn’t want to.

So what can you do? Drink, and drink some more! Water that is. Fill up, eat a salad, or change seats! That’s right! Move yourself or the food away from you.

What if you are the type of person who doesn’t eat much during the day because you are too stressed, only to make up for it and more by literally pigging out at night with friends? Studies have shown that overeating and over drinking are common ways to cope and blow off steam, especially in groups.

So what can you do? Arrive at the restaurant hungry but not famished. Snack on a mix of carbs and protein, like a piece of cheese and an apple, an hour before to keep the edge off. You can fill up fast with soup or fiber and look to enjoy your friends’ company to relax instead of relying on the food itself for salvation. Don’t over-order. Share a main and dessert, or order just a few appetizers to pick at. Eat slowly and savor your food, stopping as soon as you start to feel full. (Take the rest home with you for another meal.) In addition, you can limit nights like this to once a week, and enjoy it within reason by ordering one yummy dish instead of an appetizer, main AND dessert.

What if a buddy/ spouse/ relative constantly offers you food? (This by the way is so Jewish.) Subconsciously she may want you to fail your healthy eating efforts because she may be envious of your weight loss efforts- especially if she needs to lose weight herself.

So what can you do? Be open and honest with your pal; tell them you are trying to watch what you eat, and if she persists more than 3 times, question how good a friend she really is and whether she is trying to sabotage yours or her diet. Try to keep get-togethers food-free. Be strong (yet nice) and they will get the message you mean business. You are worth it!

Finally, help both your waistline and your wallet by making expensive restaurant meals an occasional indulgence.

Rachael E. Schindler, PhD, MA, MS, CAI, CPT. Over 18 years experience in exercise physiology, Pilates, nutritional counseling and teaching, as well as multiple degrees in forensic and developmental psychology, come together to offer you the best of both body and mind. Specializing in food and behavioral “issues” for both children and adults, you get the right combination of diet, exercise and support all in one stop! Insurance is accepted. I can be reached at Teichbergr@aol.com, or (917)690-5097.

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