An individual’s personality is characterized by the specific thinking pattern, habits, behaviours, family and also the socio-economic environment that he is brought up in. Research has shown that young adults gain power, confidence and a sense of belonging in groups – either small or big. Development of habits – good or bad, usually takes shape in these peer groups and they become the main source of approval or rejection of attitudes and behaviours of most individuals. This holds true for young adolescents as well as older adults wherein we seek a sense of familiarity with those who are close to us.
Our food habits are usually developed with the people we spend most of our time with. Peer pressure can positively or negatively affect one’s eating habits, and thereby, one’s nutritional status.
According to a research published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, “peer culture” can lead to eating disorders in teenagers, particularly young girls as they feel pressurized to keep up with the perfect body image as portrayed in the media. When they see their friends following a diet regimen to become thin, they indirectly feel inferior for not fitting in the group. This may cause them to push their bodies to the limit and in extreme cases, may also lead to eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. These disorders can lead to severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies and also low self-esteem and increased levels of stress.
Even young boys face similar pressure of living up to the “macho” image or to portray that they are well-built to look like a man. Boys who fail to match up to this image can sometimes develop feelings of insecurity, depression, resentment, anger and eating disorders. Increased levels of low self-esteem leads to the usage of alcohol, smoking and sometimes drugs. Some of them also turn towards taking steroids causing irreversible damage to their bodies.
In certain cases, the influence of peers may also lead individuals to consume more junk, processed and unhealthy foods. Whilst socializing and going out, even if someone wants to eat healthy, usually friends make fun or joke about the so-called diet, coax him/her to skip the diet and indulge with them. Gradually, this tends to form a habit with them and in order to avoid being called funny names or to avoid embarrassment, young adults just end up eating what their friends/ peers are eating. Similarly, alcohol, smoking and drug usage is largely influenced by the “peer” group. Usually, these habits start as a “try once” phenomenon, which then gradually develops into an addiction.
In today’s times, dining out, trying different cuisines, socializing has become more of a fashion trend and a status quo and is not just restricted to the joy of eating. The number of restaurants that you have tried, the variety of foods that you eat, the number of likes that you receive on social media for the same becomes the benchmark of your social status. It has almost become imperative to eat outside every weekend if you want to be labelled as “cool and happening”, thereby causing a sharp increase in consumption of processed, deep-fried, sugary foods.
All of the above factors have a huge negative impact on one’s nutrition status as people are not aware of the damage that is being caused to their bodies. Because the symptoms of deficiencies are not seen immediately, usually health is neglected in this age group and can have adverse effects in the later stages of life.
However, on the positive side, it is also noted that some healthy eating habits and lifestyle patterns are also developed if one’s peer group is motivated to stay on a healthy track. Friends and family become the support groups of these individuals and they are able to stay positive and motivated to achieve a fit and healthy regimen for themselves if their surroundings are of a similar mindset.
Eating fancy salads, going to the most popular gym, hiring the best of trainers, trying out the latest exercise regimen and being on the most talked-about diet (like keto/ intermittent fasting or the GM diet) is another fad that people blindly follow.
To summarize –
If followed under correct guidance – these can enhance your fitness levels and keep you healthy, however, if diet and fitness trends are blindly followed under peer pressure, it can affect one’s nutrition status adversely. One should be mindful enough to know what/ what not is good for their own body type and always seek expert guidance before following random advice.
Inputs by Ms. Neha Dhulla, Manager – Clinical Practices and Nutrition at Digestive Health Institute by Dr. Muffi