Diet Buddy Compatibility

Our eating habits are shaped by our environments.

Posted on | Ramani Durvasula, PhD | Comments ()

Our eating habits are shaped by our environments.

And by the people that populate those environments.

Mothers who pressure us to eat, friends who order dessert, husbands who insist on burgers and bratwurst. 

When people embark on a weight loss journey, one of their greatest barriers is the people around them. Family members who resent the change in grocery buying habits, change in menus, and just change. It’s hard to resist temptation when the folks you live with still keep the goodies around. Intentionally or unintentionally, you may be undermined by those around you. 

So, what’s a person to do? Go it alone?

Quite the contrary. Research on health behavior change shows that sharing the process may be essential – it helps us feel like we are not alone, provides empathy and information. We learn by watching others struggle with similar issues. 

And just like a new diet and wellness regimen means new habits, it may also require new people. People who are on the same page, but not part of your past eating world, with whom you don’t share a history but a present and a future characterized by healthy habits.

I had the privilege of working with Dr. Oz and dietitian Tanya Zuckerbrot to launch 25 pairs of luminous women on a journey to wellness. These women are on dietary blind dates. Instead of the usual “first-date questions” – what do you do, where do you live  – these women are finding out food preferences, diet challenges, histories, losses, triumphs, goals, menus and recipes. 

How can you learn from this process? How can you choose an optimal “diet buddy”?

  • Choose someone who has goals that are similar to yours – if you want to lose 100 pounds, working with someone who is trying to lose 10 may not make sense.
  • Choose someone of the same gender and possibly age group – age and gender both can impact speed of weight loss, which may lead to frustration if you aren’t keeping pace with your buddy.
  • Choose someone who is different enough that you may learn new recipes or foods from them. Many times, you wouldn’t be aware of how to use a particular vegetable at the farmers’ market, but a buddy with divergent interests may be able to educate you.
  • Come up with an “accountability” contract – daily contact is optimal, and find ways to psych each other up with texts, emails or whatever it takes.
  • Set shared goals and ways of commemorating those goals – shopping trips, hikes, farmers’ market excursions. 
  • Set short- and long-term commemorations. If the goals are too far down the road, you may lose your fervor. Having some short-term reinforcement in there can help stoke the wellness fires!
  • Don’t make the rewards foot. It would make little sense to toast those first 10 pounds with toast. Celebrate with a movie out (no popcorn), a walk or another non-food event.

It is easy when you are on a wellness crusade to preach too loudly to people who aren’t on the same page as you and to feel undermined by those who keep putting the pie on the table. 

By bringing in a fresh face and like-minded friend to walk this path with you, you may be opening yourself to more than just a new body – you can also look forward to a new outlook and a rich friendship.

Blog written by Ramani Durvasula, PhD
Dr. Ramani Durvasula has over 15 years of teaching, clinical and research experience. After receiving her doctorate in clinical...