Are Your Girlfriends Making You Fat?

By Michelle Lynn Olson

Sure, you can blame Sara Lee and Betty Crocker for those few extra pounds you’ve put on, but you might want to point that finger at your best girlfriends instead. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that a person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 71 percent if a same-sex friend becomes obese. And the fact that girls’ night out almost always revolves around eating and drinking doesn’t help matters any.

Not about to cut your girlfriends out of your life? You don’t have to, says Esther Blum, registered dietician and author of Eat, Drink and Be Gorgeous: A Nutritionist’s Guide to Living Well While Living It Up (Chronicle Books, 2007). Blum offers these festive tips for cutting the calories on some oh-so-common, single-girl challenges while still having a blast:

The Challenge: Your friend is begging you to split the quadruple chocolate cake.

The Solution: Set your intent before slipping into your Manolos.

Decide whether you’ll eat dessert before you leave home, suggests Blum. And think about your actions throughout the night. Are you going to be at peace with yourself tomorrow if you pig out on all that sugar? If not, skip the dessert but offer to stay for some java while your friend indulges.

The Challenge: You need something cheesy or chocolaty to help console your bestie after a traumatic breakup.

The Solution: Substitute high-calorie pick-me-ups with healthier options.

A few of Blum’s fail-proof swaps:

  • Air-popped popcorn with sea salt instead of potato chips.
  • Sorbet instead of ice cream.
  • Baked sweet potato wedges instead of traditional fries.
  • A high-quality piece of dark chocolate instead of a whole Snickers bar.

The Challenge: You’re heading right from work to an all-you-can-eat happy hour.

The Solution: When you can’t control what you eat for dinner, control how much.

If wings, nachos and jalapeno poppers are what you’re calling dinner tonight, make it enjoyable. Prepare a plate, sit down, sip your drink and pick at your appetizers. When you watch the food disappear off your plate, it will help your body register the meal, says Blum. And be sure not to starve yourself throughout the day, cautions Blum. A high-protein, high-fiber afternoon snack (think almonds and an apple) will help stave off a major munchies binge later on.

The Challenge: A mega celebration tonight.

The Solution: Exercise before hitting the big event.

A workout session will rev up your metabolism to make up for a few extra calories later on. Plus, says Blum, physical activity produces a natural high. So when your girlfriends assume it’s all those cosmos that are making you giddy, it’ll be your little secret that yogilates is to thank for your glow.

The Challenge: One drink makes you feel good, two drinks make you feel great, three drinks make you feel … sick.

The Solution: Alternate one alcoholic drink with one non-alcoholic one.

A club soda with lime will help keep your hands busy while you’re still enjoying the buzz from your last cocktail. Plus you’ll avoid a hangover in the morning.

The Challenge: Your friend drinks like a fish and interrogates you whenever she sees you without a cocktail in hand.

The Solution: Fake it.

Real-fruit cocktails are all the rage right now, says Blum. Nobody will ever notice that your mango martini is missing the two shots of booze.

Okay, so keeping the calories to a dull roar is one thing, but spending time together doesn’t have to be about food at all. Robyn Stuhr, exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, suggests these heart-pumping activities that are sure to provide serious bonding while actually burning calories:

  • Take a ballroom dance class.
  • Have a Dance Dance Revolution showdown.
  • Hit the dance club on disco night.
  • Initiate a walking club during your lunch hour.
  • Sign up for a boot camp workshop together.
  • Make a date out of a fun aerobics class (think: cardio striptease).

With a few tips up your sleeve and the right resolve, you can be the one who sets the healthy-weight bar for your best gal pals – keeping you and everyone else fit, healthy and happy!

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