Thinking of dieting? Well, there goes your social life. Learn how dieting can lead to social isolation.
Many years ago I read the book The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. It’s a really fascinating read and I highly recommend it. The author, a former National Geographic explorer, travels to regions around the world known for longevity – the Nicoya Peninusula in Costa Rica, Sardinia, Okinawa in Japan, Icaria in Greece, and Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda California.
When I first read the book, I was really focused on the nutrition aspect – I still had somewhat of a disorder-y mindset around food at the time. My takeaway was eat a semi-vegetarian diet and avoid processed foods. Of course, I still encourage people to eat more plants and less animals and focus on whole foods, but I’m a lot less militant about it after realizing that’s what people naturally do when they start eating intuitively (versus out of a place of restriction).
Now when I think back on the book, I am much more compelled by another lesson he learned from the blue zones – engagement in social life.
In Loma Linda, Seventh-day Adventists are frequently socializing and working with other Seventh-day Adventists to improve their community. In Okinawa, there’s a tradition of forming moai, social networks that support each other in times of need. In Sardinia, they spend the afternoon walking the streets and laughing together. In blue zones, their communities foster social connection.
To live a long life, most people think they need to eat well, be active, maintain a healthy weight (whatever that means…), and not do anything stupid, like driving without a seatbelt or sticking your finger in an electrical outlet. Sure, these things are important (except the weight thing – that’s debatable).
A couple years ago, I went to a day long seminar on longevity and the most interesting thing I learned was that social connection was a much greater predictor of longevity than any of the factors generally associated with health. Plus, brain stimulation from socializing helps keep you cognitively healthy, so those extra years will be quality years!
On the other hand, isolation increases the risk of premature death by 14%. Feeling lonely increases blood pressure, disrupts sleep, decreases immunity, increases depression, and increases stress hormones.
Thinking of going on a diet? In the infamous words of Dionne…
When you’re dieting, how can you say yes to an impromptu friend date at the local pizza joint? You’ll have to pass, or go and feel crappy the whole time, eating your sad looking salad while the rest of the crew enjoys their cheesy pizza and a cold beer.
When you’re dieting, how can you fully enjoy a beach weekend with friends? Will you spend hours and extra money preparing diet friendly food to bring? Or will you give up, say to tell with it and spend the whole weekend backlash eating or binging while feeling overwhelmingly guilty to whole time.
When you’re dieting, will you be able to take a break and go out to lunch with coworkers? Or will you have to skip and eat your packed lunch in front of your desk?
Dieting ignores the fact that food plays a central role in how we connect with others, and it has since way back in the caveman days when humans hung out around the campfire sharing a meal of fire-roasted wolly mammoth. Food and social connection is deeply engrained, and dieting serves as a barrier.
If your goal for losing weight is health, and your diet is socially isolating, it’s not accomplishing your goal.
If your goal for loosing weight is appearance, and your diet is socially isolating, who will even see you?
A little food for thought.