The power of tribes when it comes to your health goals

health goals

Where would we be without our tribe? For many of us, our friends and family are there for us no matter what, supporting, motivating and enabling us to achieve our best, including in our nutrition and exercise. Aside from verbal encouragement, other people can help us take advantage of our subconscious biases and natural biology.

Our brains and bodies have been hard- wired over millions of years to function in specific, and very efficient ways. Tapping into this is powerful because we’re able to work with how our bodies naturally function as opposed to fighting against it, making achieving our aims all that more realistic and effortless. A great example is the current dietary trend of fasting.

Fast-track your goals with fasting

Fasting involves shifting when (but not necessarily what) we normally eat; it’s essentially a pattern that involves eating plenty most of the time, but punctuating this with intervals of eating very little. This complements human evolution; we have evolved to function without food for extended periods because food wasn’t always available to our ancestors (Mattson et al. 2017).

Another key part of our evolution being studied by top behaviour economists, is the idea of ‘nudging

There are different ways to approach fasting. The most popular method is 16/8, which involves restricting our daily eating to an 8-hour time window and fasting for the other 16. Almost just as popular, 5:2 is a type of intermittent fasting that involves drastically restricting calories on two non-consecutive days of the week (‘fast’ days), but eating a normal quantity of food on the other five.

Fasting is one of few diet trends that stands up to scientific scrutiny; for example, both 16/8 and 5:2 methods have been systematically shown to aid weight loss, as well as help restore healthy insulin response, blood pressure and cholesterol levels (Mattson et al. 2017). However, remember to always contact your GP, Nutritionist or Dietician if you’re considering starting a new health regime.

Give yourself a nudge

Another key part of our evolution is being studied by top behaviour economists and is rapidly gaining in popularity in mainstream health circles. That is the idea of ‘nudging’. Sunstein and Thaler brought this concept to the masses in their 2008 book, ‘Nudge’, by listing countless examples of where humans can be subconsciously manipulated (or ‘nudged’) into behaving a certain way. Think about the checkout line at Sainsbury’s; there’s a reason why they put chocolate bars and crisps there. The retailer is ‘nudging’ you to buy the products without you thinking about it. The same concept can be applied to achieve the health and fitness results you want, especially because we are highly social  beings and love to know where we stand in our relationships with others. Back in our ancestors time, it helped the group stay together and therefore increased our own chances of survival. Today, it helps us with motivation to do our best and compete.

The power of the pack

Ultimately, the social element of being in a group offers huge potential benefits to us in terms of our nutrition and fitness, and the industry has known this for a very long time. For example, group exercise classes are a fantastic way to increase visits by gym goers, especially if individuals attend with a partner who provides that extra level of accountability. We don’t want to bail on our friends, or be  seen to miss too many sessions. Ultimately, this motivates us to keep on track with our fitness behaviours.

Similarly, group nutrition programs provide a nurturing environment to help individuals achieve their goals. A large part of the success of many weight loss companies can be attributed to the weekly group meetings that provide accountability and support for members. It’s reassuring to see others go through similar challenges and amazing to be able to share your successes with those who have been through similar journeys.

Ultimately, the social element of being in a group offers huge potential benefits to us in terms of our nutrition and fitness, and the industry has known this for a very long time.

The future of the health and fitness industry will involve combining the above techniques, such as ‘Nudging’, and tailoring them in new bespoke ways. This year, watch out for innovative nutrition programmes, group exercise classes and clever technology to improve your health, as well as the health of your tribe.

Article written for Thrive Magazine Winter 2020 issue >>

Lizzy Cole holds an MA in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge and an MSc in Nutrition from Kings College London and is now taking on new private clients. Visit for details.

References: Mattson, M.P., Longo, V.D. and Harvie, M. (2017) Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes. Ageing research reviews, 39, pp.46-58. Thaler, R.H. and Sunstein, C.R. (2008) Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness.