Motivational speaker and author Jim Rohn, proposed that you are the average of the five people closest to you. That is, the people most near and dear in your life, the ones you spend most of your time with, all make contributuions that shape your behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes. Jim Rohn was on to something, because this is certainly true for weight loss. Your closest family and friends, indeed, have the power to make – or break – your weight loss efforts.
How Your Social Circle Makes or Breaks your Weight Loss Goals
In the case of healthy living, this concept is fully supported by research. According to the Harvard School of Public Health nutrition chair Walter Willett in his book Thinfluence a best friend being obese raises your risk to 57%. Meanwhile, an obese sibling increases your chances by 40% and a spouse, 37%. Put simply, obesity is contagious. If your friends and family enjoy high-fat comfort foods, guzzle soda regularly, and never get any physical activity, chances are, you probably will, too. This happens because those you love tend to share similar social norms with you. You okay certain behaviors just as your social group does, and frown upon others. Because of these shared beliefs, the unhealthy eating habits and sedentary lifestyles of your loved ones rub off on you, too.
A study conducted at Arizona State University and later published in the American Journal of Public Health examined three factors that potentially explain the social nature of obesity: ‘collaboration’, ‘peer pressure’, and ‘monkey see, monkey do’. The results indicated that the stronger two individuals were linked, the stronger also were their weights connected. Researchers determined that one factor among them all, ‘monkey see, monkey do’, had the largest effect. Friends and family influence your weight loss in subtle ways based on how their view eating and body image.
Let’s say, you went to a birthday party where all your best friends were also in attendance. The menu consisted of various foods and desserts. Mostly everyone there – or, at least those that matter most to you – piled their plates high with the selections. When the cake was cut, many of you had not just one slice, but two. However, let’s imagine that many of the guests passed on the empty calories and, instead, grabbed a light snack from a fruit and vegetable patter, saying “no” to the tempting birthday cake. Odds are, you would probably follow suit with whatever your social circle had deemed acceptable, even if you weren’t consciously aware of your choice.
It seems the social nature of obesity goes both ways. Research has shown that women who have social support from a variety of different sources are more successful in their weight loss programs than those who are only accountable to themselves. Therefore, just as your friends can cause you to gain weight, their encouragement in your weight loss journey can help you lose it.
This information isn’t suggesting that you go and make all new friends, but it is a point worth considering. Joining a gym and building relationships with people who share your health goals is a terrific way to counteract any negative habits you have picked up from friends or family.