A 20-something friend asked me the other day, “My social life pretty much revolves around going out for drinks with friends, watching football together and going out for brunch. All of our activities involve eating and drinking. How am I supposed to lose weight without giving up my normal hangouts? I’ve tried it before and I always end up going back to my old habits because it’s a big part of what my friends and I do together.”
Yes, that is a dilemma. For those of us who can only vaguely remember what it was like to be in their 20s let me just say, as daunting as that may seem, there are a couple of notable advantages to being young, so the silver lining first:
Your metabolism will never be higher; enjoy it.
Your body bounces back quickly – from injury … and from the occasional overindulgence. Enjoy that too, cause it won’t always be the case.
Now, on to helping my friend with his problem.
Here was my advice to him:
Start by asking yourself, “Why is this important to me?” Answer that question, then remind yourself of the answer when everybody’s ordering another round. Write it down … snap a rubber band that’s around your wrist every time you’re tempted … brainstorm other ways to keep that reason in the forefront of your mind.
Enlist one friend to help. Talk to a like-minded friend in the group before going out about helping you say no to unhealthy choices. Having the support and accountability of someone who’s actually present can be hugely helpful.
Know your goal. Are you in training for a specific event and have an early morning workout that you don’t want to miss? You might need to forego the evening’s shenanigans all together so you can remain focused. But if you’re trying to lose weight, don’t shut yourself off from the friends and events that make you happy. You’re creating a healthy lifestyle, not just trying to lose weight. You need to establish habits that you can maintain for the long haul. Instead of sitting at home, come up with a game plan ahead of time that will allow you to participate, but do it in a way that’s in line with your goals.
And that leads to … Have a game plan in advance. Drink one glass of water for each alcoholic drink you enjoy, or switch to a lower calorie cocktail (Cosmo Magazine has a great list of “20 Tasty Low-Calorie Cocktails” that includes recipes! I’m thinking the “Itsy Bitsy Bikini” sounds pretty yummy!) Limiting alcohol is a very good idea in general because, unless you’re drinking while on the treadmill, you’re not going to burn it off and those extra calories will be stored as fat. Also, alcohol lowers your inhibitions and your resolve to stick to your healthy game plan. The more your drink, the better an idea it seems to order the Ultimate Macho Nachos off the menu. Staying in control of your food choices means staying in control of your alcohol consumption. Sorry.
Do other things with your friends. Sign up for a race together. Go be gym rats together. Volunteer for a cause you believe in together. Branch out a little with your crew, and be on the lookout for new friends who are doing healthy things that look interesting to you. People love to share their passions, so push outside your comfort zone and ask an acquaintance that’s a runner to give you some tips.
Exercise. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or not, exercise is absolutely key in establishing healthy habits. There are lots of health benefits to exercise, to be sure, but the main reason it’s so vital to exercise is what I call “The Physicality Principle.” In a nutshell, the more in touch you are with your physical body, the less like you are to do bad stuff to it. To learn more about the principle and why I know it works, watch this short video.
Twenty-something’s aren’t the only ones with this problem; most of us have relationships in which our primary shared activity is eating and / or drinking. If you decide to change your habits, it can feel kinda lonely sometimes. You may get pushback as friends challenge your choices. Quite likely they wish they could do the same. Still, they may try to sabotage your healthy choices because your decision not to imbibe stands as a challenge to their decision to do so. Keep reminding yourself of your goals, and assure them that eating healthy is something you’re doing for you; it’s not a reflection of how much you like them.
Eating like it matters is hard no matter what, but sticking to it when it seems like no one else around you is can be really tough. Remember, A healthy lifestyle isn’t punishment. If it feels that way, then you won’t be able to maintain it very long, will you? Think through problematic scenarios ahead of time, enlist the help of a thoughtful friend or two who will help hold you accountable at the event, and begin finding new ways to socialize and have fun that don’t involve bottomless french fries.
Before you know it, all your friends will be asking you for advice about how to live healthier!