Bring it to Barb

Barb Rocks

Dear Barb,

Is there some truth to hanging around people who are overweight influencing your own weight gain? How can I not be influenced without insulting my friends?


Best Friends with Overweight Friends

Dear Best Friends with Overweight Friends,

The short answer is yes, you will be influenced by others actions. It makes your friends feel uncomfortable when you are not indulging equally, leading to you succumbing to their influence if you don’t join in the same eating style. After all, acceptance is our natural drive.

Behind our decision-making processes of eating are also physiological forces that many are never even aware of. You see, deeper brain physiology drives what, when, and how we eat — along with its co-pilots of hormones, fatty acids, amino acids, glucose, and body fat. 

Hunger and eating are shaped by many factors:

  • our genes
  • social cues
  • learned behavior
  • environmental factors
  • 24-hour rhythm
  • our hormones

As your stomach expands to accommodate the incoming food, neurons in your stomach send this message to your brain, which runs from your head to your abdomen. An example: Watching the food channel together with friends is only enticing your brain to signal to your stomach to wake up. 

Isn’t it interesting how we’ll make room for high-reward foods even when we’re full? This is why at Thanksgiving, after moaning and groaning about how full you are, you miraculously make room for pie when it’s time for dessert. 

Work on eating slowly; itreally helps.Pay attention to your own internal satiety cues. Try to eat without your smartphone, TV, or computer in your face. One trick you can try is to eat on smaller plates. 

Protein is a satisfying superstar. We’ve seen plenty of research that when people eat more lean protein, they eat fewer calories overall. You’ll feel much more satisfied. Sometimes even like you’re eating “too much!” 

Remember Berardi‘s First Law: If a food is in your house or possession, either you, someone you love, or someone you marginally tolerate will eventually eat it.Likewise, if a healthy food is in your house or possession, either you, someone you love, or someone you marginally tolerate will eventually eat it.

Recognize that it’s okay to enjoy some of those highly rewarding foods with your friends occasionally. Completely avoiding them, or demonizing them as “bad” or “poison,” usually does the opposite of what you want: You feel like a guilty failure, and you often end up eating those foods anyway. 

Bottom line: You can’t control your unique genetic makeup, your history of dieting, or your physiological response. But you can certainly control your behaviors when you are away from your overweight friends. 

The people you’re eating with influence your own eating habits whether you like it or not, and most of the time, you don’t even realize it’s happening.

My best advice is to practice moderation and a little discipline when you are not with your friends! It is really up to you, and you alone, how you eat and what you choose the majority of the time when you are away from your friends. That leaves likely 75 percent of your day to choose wisely. I always say, “Everyday is not your birthday so don’t eat like it is.”

Rock is a mental health counselor and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at

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