The Hard Facts: To Have Friends Or Be Skinny

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“A new study about personality and weight confirms what anyone who has tried to balance eating well and living well knows: the people who are most likely to get invited to a last-minute luau are the same people who will have the hardest time resisting the pineapple upside-down cake.” (“How To Be Impulsive Without Gaining Weight” ; 8/19/2011)

This is something I have always known to be true. And this is why making friends and staying trim are at odds.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog, while my quest added friends, it also added pounds. This is because we tend to eat more–as much as 96 percent more!–when eating with other people. (Refresher: We consume 35 percent more when eating with one other person [besides a spouse], a table for four equals 75 percent more, and a party of at least seven translates to 96 percent. No joke.) But it’s not just about eating with people. It’s also about wanting to the be the light-hearted, so-much-fun-to-hang-out-with, lets-invite-her-along friend. This type of pal, like it or not, is usually the person happy to sip a drink or indulge in some nachos at your barbecue. Not the person who refuses to eat carbs, and, though unintentionally, makes you feel guilty about your indulgence. Or the person who takes 45 minutes to order her meal because she’s making up her own dish.

According to researchers, of all personality traits, it’s impulsitivity that best indicates likelihood to be overweight. (Impulsivity = that friend who’ll accept an invitation on a whim. To brunch, a road trip, what have you.)

“Participants who scored in the top 10 percent on [impulsivity] weighed an average of 22 pounds more than those in the bottom 10 percent. Compared to participants of normal weight, the overweight and obese participants were more impulsive—and warm, and assertive. They were also more likely to seek out excitement and prefer to be around others. Alternatively, those people who scored high on conscientiousness (aka, the task-focused, efficient, dutiful and organized) tended to be leaner.”

I’m a fairly average weight for my height, a product of much working out in response to my constant friend-seeking food intake. My average-ness is also a product of sometimes being the un-fun one–the girl who might not join in for a weeknight beer, or go on an spontaneous trip to the wine bar because she’s been planning to cook a turkey meatloaf. On an impulsivity scale, I probably rank fairly low.

It seems an unfair tradeoff, but one that I’m not sure has a solution. On the days I get frustrated about having put on a few LBs, I try to remind myself that better friendships will most definitely make me happier than being a few inches smaller. That one’s scientifically proven too–40% of a person’s happiness is dictated by relationships. Weight loss has no such effect.

What say you? Have you had to make the sociability for weight trade-off before? Is it a fair one? Or do you think a strict diet and a fun and friendly lifestyle can coexist?


Filed under The Search

6 responses to “The Hard Facts: To Have Friends Or Be Skinny

  1. That makes a ton of sense. I know that when I made friends in Colorado, I ended up gaining weight because we started going out weekly to lunch and having Thursday night dinners with our families at each other’s houses.

    I’d say that since moving to Texas a month ago I’ve lost weight, but that’s not true since I am pregnant and not really losing weight right now. 🙂 Although, as soon as we move into our new house, I plan on making that jump into the friend hunt, which, as you know, is nerve racking.

  2. Thanks for all of this info. and statistics. It makes so much sense, especially the connection between being impulsive and gaining weight. And, that is unfortunate–being impulsive is fun and being in shape is very important to me. I would take friends over a few pound loss, yet I am going to strive for nutritious (not necessarily strict) diet and fun. Some of my fun involves running with friends–so that is an attempt at making it work too! And, I never counted drink calories in college (25 years ago….), so why start now? I think having this knowledge will be more helpful no matter which avenue I take!

  3. Yes. This. Totally.

    I’m in the middle of training for the Chicago Marathon, and I was just lamenting to another runner friend of mine that it’s SO DIFFICULT to maintain a social life while doing this. I’ve decided to make training a priority, so in return it seems I’m turning down social invitations in lieu of eating healthy, sleeping and training.

    And I’ll tell ya: it sucks.

    The bright side is that this will be over come October 9th. At least then I’ll be able to make plans on a Friday night without worrying about having to get up early on Saturday morning for my long run. Or going out on a Tuesday night for something delicious without worrying about how it might affect my weight (which I’m actively trying to get down since it doesn’t make sense to haul extra pounds over 26.2 miles).

    So – yea – I think it’s difficult for a full, stay-out-past-9pm-and-eat-and-drink social life to co-exist with any sort of training or weight loss/healthy lifestyle. Maybe some people have wills of steel, but I don’t — I know that I won’t behave myself in the midst of a social good time, so I just don’t go at all.

  4. Layla

    Me too. I spent 10 years focussing on people skills and friendship, and letting food fall by the wayside (I have a good metabolism) but now that’s catching up with me… I’m not gaining weight yet, but I’m starting to notice that I feel so much better when I’m not full…

  5. Ana

    Yes, yes, yes. Sticking to a diet/exercise regimen (and/or budget, study plan, anything requiring self-discipline, really) definitely impacts your ability to be the fun go-to gal pal! It certainly is tougher to maintain a thriving and spontaneous social life when you really need to get to the gym after work or need to get to bed by 9 so you can go on a run in the morning. And when one-too-many last-minute dinners out will ruin your carefully thought out dinner plan and leave you with wasted groceries, or you are trying to avoid bar food/cheese/meat/sugar/whatever.

    So, being the uber-nerd that I am, I am going to actually try to “plan for spontaneity” by allowing some wiggle-room in my schedules! That, and of course, trying to plan healthy activities (its hard though! even our book club has taken to serving delish huge brunches, and even yoga class can be followed by dinner).

  6. I don’t believe that fun lifestyle can coexist with a strict diet – you can not have both. I’ve seen it with my friend. She is married but they don’t have children, so they are sociable each and every weekend with people and she can’t shed the weight.
    I on the other hand are married with children and don’t have people around me every weekend, thus I am more successful with the weight loss thing.
    Great post

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