Is your social life sabotaging your weight goals?

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Lunch with your girlfriend. Beer and chicken wings with the guys. Wine after work. Take out Friday night (you deserve it after the week you’ve had!). Date night Saturday night. Family brunch on Sunday.

Getting together with family and friends are often connected with food – but could these social activities be sabotaging your weight goals?


Possibly. Here is why:

  • Eating with other people can change how we eat. Research shows that when we eat with other people, we tend to eat more food than we would have otherwise. Maybe it’s because you are trying to un-wind. Maybe you are celebrating an event or an achievement, which may result in your ordering more foods like cocktails, appies and desserts. You may be treating yourself to enjoy foods that you don’t otherwise eat every day (this is a great strategy at restaurants – order something you don’t otherwise eat everyday). And you are likely focusing more on your visit than on your food.


  • We take in more calories in the day when we eat out. According to research from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, eating at restaurants often results in us taking in about 200 additional calories during the day (and in looking at different restaurant nutrition information, this number seems a little low). If you eat out just once a week, these additional calories could result in you gaining three extra pounds each year.


Most of us eat out more than once a week (think about how often you eat out across all meal and snack times). Restaurants are notorious for offering larger portion sizes – they want their customers to be happy and satisfied. However, larger portion sizes are consistently found to result in us eating more food without us feeling more full. Yes, you read that right! Depending on how often you eat out (and I would guess that most of us eat out more than once a week), this could result in you moving further away from, rather than closer to, your weight goal.


  • Even if you choose a “healthier” restaurant, you are more likely to order more calories! Restaurants advertising their menus as “healthy” may fool you into overeating. Researchers found that people often underestimate the calories of “healthy” meals by 20-45%, compared to estimates for a more indulgent meal, which is often 10-20% under. They also found that consumers were more likely to order additional side dishes or enjoy additional snacks later in the day when eating at a healthy-sounding restaurant.


When I work with clients around weight loss, I am actually focused on managing their weight, rather than weight loss at all costs. I coach people on sustainable lifestyle strategies that result in their body moving to a weight that is best for them. This approach allows the focus to be on a healthful lifestyle, and not deprivation.  Social excursions, depending on what they look like and how often they occur, could be undoing some of your work and progress. I don’t share this to take away the fun from life. I share to raise your consciousness around your social habits and how food fits into that.


Does this mean you cannot go out to eat with your friends or family to eat?


No! But it is important to look at how this social activity fits into your lifestyle and your current health and lifestyle goals.


As you think about your social activities with family and friends, think about how these activities involve food and how your eating changes when you eat out:

  • What kind of foods do you eat? What kind of drinks do you drink?
  • How much more food do you eat when out with friends?
  • How does eating out impact what and how you eat elsewhere in the day?
  • How often do you eat out? (think breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks).
  • How are your everyday choices and habits working for you?


Most of us enjoy connecting with family and friends around food. Most of us enjoy the entertainment offered to us through food. Are there other ways you could enjoy your time together? Could you:

  • Grab a latte and go for a walk in a local park?
  • Lace up your shoes and go for a walk along a pathway together?
  • Enjoy a yoga or Pilates class together then go for a hot cup of tea?.
  • Try a paint-night or pottery class in your community?


It is the everyday habits that you do consistently that make the difference as to whether you will move toward or away from your goal.

Over the next month, notice how your social activities involve food and see how these activities could be impacting your progress toward your goals.


Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall MSc, RD, Food, Nutrition & Culinary Coach, Registered Nutritionist and Calgary Dietitian, Calgary, AB.

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