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Men's health

Peer pressure

Most of us value our friends our “peers”. People often of similar age to our selves who we may have shared similar experiences with such as old school mates, friends of friends, usually with similar social backgrounds to our selves.

As we get older these peers become like our extended family. Our lives can travel in parallel. Often we share our holidays, our views on world and local events, our important decisions and attitudes to the things around us.

Why are our peers important?

Our peers often provide a mirror to our selves. They offer their loyalty, they celebrate with us when things go well and commiserate when things in our lives “turn to custard”. Although they may not always agree with our decisions, and may tell us so, they still remain an important part of our lives.

It is often said that “you always know when you have a good friend because you can be a part for years and yet when you get back together you can pick up the treads of your relationship and it feels like you have never been away”. Peer relationships can be just like that.

Our peers can derail us

Sometimes though, our peers can put pressure on us to conform to their behavior. This is often at odds with what we want or need to do for ourselves. When we see our own children’s friends playing up, drinking too much, causing offense we are quick to point out the short falls. We might even suggest that our children need to find new friends or associates. This can be easy to say but hard to do ourselves particularly when the relationships around us have developed over many years or involve a network of other people or work connections that we value.

Swimming against the “peer pressure” tide can also be hard if we don’t want to offend our peers. Perhaps we lack self-confidence, we don’t want to “rock the boat” or draw unnecessary attention to ourselves or to upset the social plans of others.

When does it matter?

The times that really matter is when we start to notice that the behavior of our peers (and ourselves when we are with them) is affecting our health or close/family relationships; stretching our finances and causing us stress.

  • We may be drinking too much and too often resulting in a fatty liver, falling libido and depression.
  • Eating more food than normal resulting in weight gain; increased blood pressure, blood sugar or cholesterol levels.
  • Exercising (without GP supervision) at a level higher than our training or ability.
  • Finding it hard to be taken seriously when saying “no”

What can you do?

While you may not be able to change the eating or drinking habits of others  and sometimes it’s simply not possible to do your own “healthier thing”, here are a few tips that might help you to manage the social pressures while still maintaining your friendships:

  • Try to be guided by your intuition or gut feeling and do what you think is right.
  • Plan ahead for times of pressure e.g. take along some non-alcoholic drinks to a party, or offer to bring a platter of (healthy) nibbles to share.
  • Plan to opt out earlier if necessary e.g. offer to be the designated driver for the night.
  • Try to be with friends who share your feelings, so that you don’t have to always justify why e.g. you don’t want to eat that custard square or have another wine right now?
  • If wanting to take part with friends but feeling unsure of how well you will cope physically then offering to help the “team” in some other way can work well. Such as offering to help with equipment on a triathlon or to help organize the event. This way you can still feel included without sacrificing your own personal needs or safety.
  • Often being up front and honest can produce the best results. “I’d love to come to the BBQ but can’t eat a lot of meat at the moment do you mind if I bring along a seafood salad”?
  • Often others in the group are feeling pressured and would prefer a change too. When it’s your turn to provide food try leading by example. Such as swapping the usual pastries and cream buns at morning tea for healthier foods such as club sandwiches, sushi, grapes or scones.
  • If you are the one in charge of catering at a gathering then try offering a choice.  Studies of cafeterias that offer healthy options e.g. brown bread as well as white, margarine as well as butter, pies alongside healthy sandwiches and rolls, have found that more of the healthy foods are eaten. So try making small changes and see what happens.

If you would like to discuss ways in which you can make healthier food and beverage choices without sacrificing your friendships then just contact us we would love to help.

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »

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