According to the Edelman Health Barometer, a 15,000 person, 12-country survey, many people believe that their friends and family members bear as much responsibility for their personal health as their doctors and other health care providers. After “themselves,” more than forty percent of respondents said that friends and family have the most impact on their lifestyle as it relates to health, and more than a third believe their personal peeps have the greatest impact on nutrition.
The survey also revealed a big “action gap," that is, the disconnect between the desire to be healthier and the ability to change. While 62 percent said they’ve tried to ditch an unhealthy behavior, half failed due to feelings of addiction or dependence, a lack of enjoyment or immediate reward tied to the change, and interestingly, a lack of support.
This data backs what I see in my own practice. I communicate with most of my clients every day, but for the most part I’m a new addition to their life; and while they may trust me as a health professional, their friends and family members are the ones they shop, cook and eat with, and the people who they talk to about what they’re doing and why. And that interaction can be make or break. In my experience, when my clients’ significant other or best friend is encouraging, it’s like 2+2 = 5. The combo of my guidance and their support leads to incredible results. But when the people closest to them question what they’re doing or tempt them to throw in the towel, every meal can feel like an uphill battle.
When that’s the case I highly recommend going digital. In the Edelman survey over fifty percent of respondents said they turn to online social networks when making health decisions. That’s great, but you can also turn to the web for support. I love that my facebook fan page feels like a little community where people cheer each other on, share tips, tricks and recipes, make each other laugh, and bond over the camaraderie of working toward similar goals. When you have that, even from online “friends” you’ll probably never meet, it can give you the confidence and motivation you need to stay on track.
How much do your friends and family members impact your diet? Do your online buds support you more than your face-to-face friends? Please share your thoughts here or tweet them to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.