Forget about social media influencers, friends and family are the primary people who inspire our dietary habits.

Will Ferrell Eating GIF

The network of people close to yu influence what goes on your plate, both in the amount of food and drink consumed and the type. You may be thinking, 'no way, I make those decisions on my own,' but research shows these influences occur subconsciously.

A multitude of information is being absorbed by the subconscious mind at every moment, much of which doesn't pass our conscious, commanding mind. Therefore, we obey influential cues without noticing.  

Experts suggest that eating and diet decisions are social activities particularly prone to subconscious influence. That's because diet actively shapes our perception of self and group.

If you're prone to eating sweets and drinking soda, ask yourself: do your friends eat cookies?  

Do Your Friends Eat Cookies? 

A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Food and Nutrition proved we are unknowingly influenced by our peers when it comes to the amount of food and drinks we consume.  

In the study, people were told their peers ate more, so they themselves decided to indulge. The reverse happened when people were told their peers ate less. Individuals conformed, opting not to go back for seconds.

Another study measured the effects of constrictive eating among friends and verified if a plate of cookies are presented to a group and your buddy doesn't eat one, you probably won't either.

Cookie Monster GIF

In this study, people we grouped up and offered a plate of cookies. In one group, a person was instructed beforehand not to eat any. The overall cookie consumption among that group was less than the other. Even more interesting, once people from the less-consumed cookies group were moved to a new room with different people, they still did not opt for a cookie.  

Following this study, it has been argued whether food influences really go away when separated spatially. But the basis stands: if your friends eat a lot of cookies, you probably will too.  

It's Normative Conduct 

Eating habits are a result of social norms. Our brains like knowing what we are doing (or eating) is correct and agreed upon. These unconscious dietary rules and guidelines are also called "informational eating norms."  

It's a mirroring effect. We tend to eat how those around us do who we associate as being in 'our group.' Even when we're alone, if our self-association with a group is strong enough, we'll eat and drink based on the guidelines of that group. For instance, if you associate as a runner, you may try to mirror what other runners eat. It's pure evolution, we want to be part of a tribe and will emulate role models.  

Adopt Best Friends GIF by Best Friends Animal Society

The food and drinks we choose reinforce who we are.  

Research suggests that if you go to dinner with someone you idolize, you'll probably order what they do. We are more likely to adopt the diet habits of people we want to be like.  

What Do Mom and Dad Eat? 

2012 study was completed to analyze eating habits among children and adolescents, following the rise in obesity in the US, Canada, and around the world. Experts determined that while a child's peer network does play a role in "promoting and maintaining positive behavioral health trajectories," parents have the most sway.  

Mom and dad, that means your choice to stock the fridge with sugary soda instead of kid-friendly tea may have a stronger impact than you think.   

"When it comes to adolescents' fruit and vegetable intake, parents remain the main influencer, with what they do (descriptive norms) being more important than what they say (injunctive norms)," says another study   

Leading by example and reevaluating who may be subconsciously influencing your dietary habits can increase awareness of dietary health and improve it for ourselves and those around us.  

In "healthy eating interventions" where children and adolescents were directed to change eating habits for the purpose of gaining health, researchers found that success hinged upon on the family being positively involved. Also, focusing on self-efficacy and positive outcomes that result from eating and drinking more wholesome, nutrient-rich foods and drinks lead to better results. 

But first thing's first: A parent must be aware of their influence on a child's eating habits. 

Season 1 Nbc GIF by The Good Place

Arguably, the same transformation of diet is attainable among adults. Do a quick analysis of whether your diet choices are influenced by members of your network - like friends, coworkers, family, or significant others. 

It Only Takes One Person to Inspire a Healthier Diet 

According to this study, it doesn't take an army to inspire healthy choices. It only takes one person.  

Researchers wrote, "Having at least one network member who encourages one to eat more fruits and vegetables and to engage in regular physical activity was associated with motivation to change the relevant behavior."  

evite GIF

So, bring kombucha to Thanksgiving dinner instead of eggnog and eat your greens at the family table. It's a win for you and those around you because we all want to be healthier and feel better.  

Try Mindful Dining 

Changing dietary habits can be tough, there's no denying that. Along with surrounding yourself with people who eat and drink real, nutritional meals and snacks, try mindful dining.  

Being mindful while you buy, order, and consume food and drinks is a quick way to bring your mind and body into the moment and operate actively instead of passively.

Basically, it's a way to not be so subconsciously influenced.  

The practice is easy: slow down. Become aware of the choices you are making, how the food and drinks smell, look, and taste. Try this alone or with a group to break from mindless noshing. Mmmm, let's take a moment and appreciate this lasagna. 

Lasagna Gif By Shaking Food GIF

Mindful dining also makes us enjoy the experience of healthy foods and healthy eating more.

Natural flavors become more pronounced and you tend to get fuller faster. Food and drinks lose a bit of their emotional power- a big reason we crave chocolate, chips, alcohol, and soda.  

With mindful eating, you finish your meal on your own time, aware of being full but not stuffed, and can move on to the next activity.  

Share this article with your family members and closest friends and see if you can begin actively helping each other to make healthy choices. (Yes, a cookie now and then is still healthy.)