When we eat out with our friends, we usually order the same dishes as theirs, just because it makes us feel more included. It’s a strange habit, but since food is always associated with intact friendships and bonding moments, we’ll use it to show our camaraderie and compatibility. If we like the same food, we must also share other things common, and thus, our friendship will last forever.
Such behavior shows that our environment affects our eating habits. We may not realize it, but our friends, family, and home — all of which consist of our environment — all have a role on our health.
In fact, some people with eating disorders come from environments where their control is limited. For example, an athlete who has to train hard to maintain a bulky or lean physique. Their families may not restrict their diet, but their support and expectations may still pressure the athlete into surpassing their limit, which may involve heavily controlling their food intake.
Social Norms Affect Our Diet
In the world of sports, the norm is a fit, muscular body. It can also be a skinny frame, specifically in gymnastics, swimming, and figure skating. When you’re exposed to the environment of sports, chances are you’d never escape the pressure of adhering to your sport’s physical standards. Your coaches and the whole sporting committee may expect you to achieve a certain type of body, in addition to playing excellently.
These brutal expectations caused many athletes to develop eating disorders. Some renowned athletes who suffered anorexia nervosa include the first Perfect 10 Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, female Lightweight Champion of the World Mia St. John, and Olympic gold medalist in rowing Bhane Rabe. Unfortunately, Rabe lost his battle against the deadly eating disorder.
But not all social norms lead to eating disorders. In usual cases, it just disrupts our health and gets us out of shape. Indeed, if the norm around your campus is lunching on fast food, you’d also adopt the same habit, and later on find yourself gaining weight.
On the contrary, social norms may improve our health too. If you’re friends with health coaches, vegans, nutritionists, or anyone else health-conscious, you’d also acquire their taste and learn to make healthy food choices for yourself.
When you combine eating with social activity, that how you make the people around you influence your diet. It may or may not result in good health, as proven by the situation of the athletes who have had eating disorders. Your environment may not exactly cause an eating disorder or disordered eating, but it plays a role in it nonetheless.
Your Family’s Role in Your Eating Habits
Researchers have discovered that in some cases, a person with an eating disorder has an enmeshed relationship with their family, particularly their parents, or one parent. “Enmeshed” is a psychological term that describes an overly-intimate relationship in which boundaries are blurred or borderline nonexistent. A “stage mother” is an example of a parent enmeshed with her child. Because they’re overly-attached, they’d join their child in the important events they are participating in, like cheerleading practices, sports training, or such. As a result, their child will experience difficulty in developing an identity that’s separated from their parent.
Simply put, a child with enmeshed parents struggle to realize their individuality. They feel powerless in controlling their own lives, pushing them to assert the little control they have on one particular activity: Eating.
If not an enmeshed parent, over-protective, perfectionist parents who place exaggerated attention on external rewards may also contribute to the cause of an eating disorder. The heavy expectations they place upon their child may cause stress, which they’d soothe by either overeating or starving themselves. The latter is usually practiced by people who fail to meet their parents’ expectations and make up for it by looking thin and pretty.
How to Eat Healthy in a High-risk Environment
If your friends influence your food choices, check in with yourself before ordering a too-indulgent or unhealthy meal. Ask yourself if that’s what you really want, or if you’d eat it if you’re alone. If you realize that you’re just choosing a meal to please your friends, follow your heart and order what you actually want.
Know that there are other ways to identify with your friends without involving food. You can explore your other interests and hobbies, which can shape your dynamics better.
If your parents, coaches, and other figures of authority are the main causes of your problematic eating habits, research helpful treatment options for anorexia, and all credible information about eating disorders in general. Remember that you have more control in your life than you realize, even if everything around you screams otherwise.