How important is having a social life to you? Take a careful look at the consequences of your restrictive diet if you’d like to keep one.


In the book “The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest”, a former National Geographic explorer travels to regions around the world known for longevity – the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, Sardinia, Okinawa in Japan, Icaria in Greece, and Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda California.

At first glance, the book seemed to be focused on the nutrition aspect, with the main takeaway focused on eating a semi-vegetarian diet and avoiding processed foods. However, there is a much more compelling lesson that was 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, and avoid being reckless (like driving without a seatbelt or sticking your finger in an electrical outlet).

These things are important; however, social connection may in fact be a greater predictor of longevity than any of the other factors we associate 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? Well, there goes your social life.

When you’re dieting, how can you say yes to an impromptu friend date at the local pizza joint? You’ll have to either pass, or feel crappy while being there as you eat your sad-looking salad while the rest of the crew enjoys their cheesy pizza and 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 “hell with it” and spend the whole weekend backlash eating or binging while feeling overwhelmingly guilty the 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.

Since the earliest of caveman days, humans have hung out around the campfire sharing a meal of fire-roasted woolly mammoth. Food and social connection are deeply connected, and dieting serves as a barrier between the two. If your goal for losing weight is health, and your diet is socially isolating, then it is no longer accomplishing your goal.

If your goal for losing weight is appearance and your diet has become socially isolating, who will even see you?

A little food for thought.

Adapted from the original article.

Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE is a private practice dietitian, food enthusiast, and nutrition expert based in Columbia, SC.  By guiding others to rediscover the joy of nourishment rather than deprivation, Rachael helps men and women alike improve their health and well-being through delicious whole food recipes and practical advice through intuitive eating.