Abiding By The Norms Of The Table: How Your Friend’s Diet May Be Influencing Your Own

Do your eating habits change depending on whom you’re eating with? When you go out on a first date, perhaps you nervously pick at your food, too anxious to eat enough to actually fill you. Or maybe you eat differently when you are around men than when you are around women.

This is my first year out of college, and although I’ve only been out for a few months, I’m already noticing my eating patterns change. I’ve started eating different foods since I graduated. In school I’d have a salad of fresh veggies with every meal. But now that I’m on my own, fresh produce is far too pricey to have at every meal. But the amount I eat has changed as well. I help myself to seconds at dinner some nights regardless of whether we are having flatbread pizza or veggie stir-fry. Back in college I was so hesitant to have seconds of a “non-healthy” food for fear that the friends with whom I was eating would judge me.

Denying myself seconds to fit in

I ate nearly every meal with a group of girls. Often these girls were trying to lose weight or “eat healthier” or “stop eating so much junk.” All of these phrases translated to mean the same thing: they were eating less hoping that their bodies would shrink. So I certainly didn’t want to be the one rushing up for seconds of vegetable samosa while everyone else ate a bowl of cucumbers after they’d finished their meals. Instead of having the seconds I was craving, I’d settle for a cup of Chai tea and a piece of fruit—a much healthier option to be sure. But I was a runner; I was exercising for several hours a day; I didn’t have to deny myself seconds at dinner if I was still hungry. But I always did. I was preoccupied with the idea that I had to eat the same amount as everyone else.

I never acknowledged that the people with whom I ate influenced my eating habits. I just knew that I generally ate different kinds of food when I was at home with my family, and I ate more food if I was cooking for myself.

Changing my eating habits

It wasn’t until I moved in with my boyfriend this year that I realized how much my eating habits are influenced by the people who eat around me. My boyfriend plays soccer and bikes everywhere. When it comes time for dinner, he makes exactly the food he is craving, and he eats until he is full. Pizza has become a new staple in our house. Don’t get me wrong, he is very health conscious, but he doesn’t deny himself “unhealthy” foods every once in a while.

My advice to college students

My advice to you, if you are also a college student whose diet is influenced by the people around you, is this: switch it up every once in a while. Eat with a different group of people. Have a meal by yourself. Eat with a group of both guys and girls. And don’t be afraid to eat until you are full. You know the amount of food that you need in order to be satiated and have enough energy. Don’t let your dining companions dictate what you put on your plate.

Eating Disorder Self Test. Take the EAT-26 self test to see if you might have eating disorder symptoms that might require professional evaluation. All answers are confidential.

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