Spending time with people who are not obsessed with their bodies may be key to improving your own eating habits and body image, a study has found. Researchers from University of Waterloo in Canada examined how social interactions influence body image. They found that in addition to the previous findings that being around people preoccupied with their body image was detrimental, that spending time with people who were non-body focused had a positive impact. “Our research suggests that social context has a meaningful impact on how we feel about our bodies in general and on a given day,” said Kathryn Miller, PhD candidate at University of Waterloo.
“Specifically, when others around us are not focused on their body it can be helpful to our own body image,” said Miller. For the study, researchers asked 92 female undergraduate students aged 17 to 25 to complete a daily diary over seven consecutive days and reflected on their interactions with body focused and non-body focused people. The study measured participants’ frequency of daily interactions with body focused and non-body focused peers, their degree of body appreciation, and body satisfaction.
They also analysed whether the participants ate intuitively in alignment with their hunger and cravings rather than fixating on their dietary and weight goals. “Body dissatisfaction is ubiquitous and can take a huge toll on our mood, self-esteem, relationships, and even the activities we pursue,” said Allison Kelly, a psychology professor at University of Waterloo.
“It’s important to realise that the people we spend time with actually influence our body image. If we are able to spend more time with people who are not preoccupied with their bodies, we can actually feel much better about our own bodies,” said Kelly. The researchers also found that spending more time with non-body focused individuals may be advantageous in protecting against disordered eating and promoting more intuitive eating. “It’s also important for women to know that they have an opportunity to positively impact those around them through how they relate to their own bodies,” Miller said.