How to Eat Healthier With Family and Friends

Learn to eat healthy at parties, restaurants and barbecues

Smiling neighbors around potluck table in sunny park
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When you are trying to develop healthy habits, such as more nutritious eating, sometimes social situations can create anxiety. While there are studies to suggest that diet quality increases when people eat together, some people still have trouble sticking to their goals when they are in social situations. But, that doesn't mean you can't be successful with healthy eating when you're around family and friends. With some planning, it is possible to stick to your goals.

How Family and Friends Can Impact Your Eating

In one study, researchers looked at the way that we change our eating habits to match the eating habits of the people around us. They found that our friends and family are especially influential. We tend to change the amount of food we eat and the type of food we eat to match the choices made by our closest companions.

Of course, that can have good or bad consequences. If you surround yourself with healthy moderate eaters, then they may influence you to eat a healthy moderate diet as well. But if you live in America, that may less likely to happen.

One news report claims that Americans eat 3,770 calories per day on average, more than any other country. Recent data from the USDA puts the number closer to 2,700 per day, but that calorie count is still way too high for most dieters.

How to Stick to Nutrition Goals at Gatherings

If you're trying to lose weight, you don't have to avoid all events with your family and friends in order to reach your goals. The best way to eat less in social situations is to make a plan in advance. Use these tips to develop a strategy that meets your specific needs.

  • Consider tracking your macros or calories. Track your macronutrients (fat, protein, carbs) or calories if that's a strategy that works for you. Some people lose weight by using mobile apps and food logs to track their calories or macronutrients. This can help you to see what you've eaten already in a day and how you can continue to stick to your goals when your are out. It's perfectly okay to eat outside your goals at a gathering, so don't beat yourself up if you can't adhere to them or simply don't want to. 
  • Make better drink choices. Drinking can impact your food choices. Some studies have shown that when drinking increases, diet quality decreases. One way to alleviate this is to drink water in between alcoholic beverages and to eat your meal before you start drinking
  • Acknowledge and manage stress. If you've noticed that being around your family makes you stress eat, there are strategies that can help you overcome this. Acknowledge your feelings. If you are feeling overwhelmed consider taking a short break—go for a walk or head to the bathroom and put some cold water on your face.
  • Ask for support. A good way to manage family stress is to get support from them regarding your goals. Receiving support and understanding from your family may take time, but educating them on your health goals may help them to become more accepting. Ask them to let you participate in the meal planning or cooking or show them recipes that you have adopted. It could be fun to engage in eating in a new way.
  • Be clear about your goals. The way you set your goals can impact whether or not you reach them. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, setting a weight loss goal that is specific, relevant and measurable it becomes easier to follow your plan during challenging moments. You can even set a short-term goal for the evening and post it in a place where you see it periodically to keep yourself motivated.
  • Don't allow yourself to be pressured. There will be times when your well-intentioned family members may push food on you or say offensive things that compromise your weight loss commitment. Don't give in to the pressure. Bolster your self-confidence by reminding yourself of your previous successes and stay committed to your plan.

A Word From Verywell

It is normal to eat more and perhaps even better in social gatherings. But if you find that you aren't sticking to your health goals, you can learn ways to navigate socials gatherings. Adopting new behaviors can help you stick to your goals for the long haul.

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2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Chae, W., Ju, Y.J., Shin, J. et al. Association between eating behaviour and diet quality: eating alone vs. eating with othersNutr J 17, 117 (2018). doi:10.1186/s12937-018-0424-0

  2. Breslow RA, Guenther PM, Juan W, Graubard BI. Alcoholic beverage consumption, nutrient intakes, and diet quality in the US adult population, 1999-2006J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110(4):551-562. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2009.12.026

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