Strate­gies to help you break free of peer pres­sure

Healthy Food Guide (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

Cel­e­brat­ing birthdays with a cake is com­mon­place in of­fices around Aus­tralia. Ei­ther the birth­day girl/boy brings in a cake to share, or their col­leagues am­bush them with lay­ers of sponge or cho­co­late cup­cakes, cov­ered in ic­ing and blis­tered with can­dles (usu­ally verg­ing on a fire haz­ard). Which­ever model you’re fa­mil­iar with, it’s a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence that helps to break up the work­ing day.

Too much of a good thing

A lit­tle bit of cake now and then isn’t an is­sue, but what hap­pens if you have lots of co-work­ers and there­fore lots of birthdays to raise a slice to? Or if ev­ery event and mile­stone is cel­e­brated with cake? The sweet dream quickly be­comes a night­mare. Chances are you’ll take a piece be­cause you don’t want to be a killjoy. Or maybe you re­ally do feel like a slice, and in that case, savour ev­ery mouthful. But why are we so afraid to turn down treats?

How our brains are wired

Decades of psy­cho­log­i­cal re­search shows our eat­ing be­hav­iour is in­flu­enced by those around us. If most of our col­leagues eat the birth­day cake, we’re more likely to go for it. If they cut a hefty serv­ing, we’re likely to fol­low their lead. If there’s a choice of treats and most peo­ple pick the one piled up with cream, you guessed it — we’re prob­a­bly go­ing to go for that one, too.

Why do we do this? Fol­low­ing oth­ers makes us feel more part of the group; it binds the group to­gether and re­in­forces a shared iden­tity, mak­ing us feel good. A re­cent brain-imag­ing study from Stan­ford Univer­sity in the US showed that as we al­ter our be­hav­iour to match oth­ers’, ac­tiv­ity in the plea­sure part of the brain in­creases. Fol­low­ing the norm hits that re­ward but­ton in our brain.

The down­side is that if an in­di­vid­ual be­haves dif­fer­ently from the group, we judge them neg­a­tively

Re­search shows that if a col­league cuts a hefty slice, you’re likely to do the same

as a warn­ing to oth­ers, to en­sure that the group is main­tained. Not tak­ing the cake is a hard choice be­cause, to some ex­tent, we’re wired to fol­low the group to avoid neg­a­tive con­se­quences. No­body wants to be a spoil­sport.

Find­ing an al­ter­na­tive

Does this mean you’re doomed to eat more cake than you’d re­ally like, for­ever more? No, but it’s time to think lat­er­ally. As say­ing no isn’t al­ways easy, an al­ter­na­tive is to change what’s on of­fer. For in­stance, you could swap cake for a spe­cial break­fast of berries, yo­ghurt and good cof­fee (as Team HFG do). You might sug­gest cel­e­brat­ing a few oc­ca­sions in one go, to re­duce the fre­quency of treats.

Or you could throw out the food el­e­ment and come up with some­thing en­tirely dif­fer­ent, such as a team ac­tiv­ity, or pitch in for a card and a bunch of flow­ers.

If your sug­ges­tions fall on deaf ears, wrap up a slice of cake to take home. No one needs to know whether you, a neigh­bour or the ants ate it!

An­other day, an­other of­fice birth­day cake!

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