It’s here – the one month of the year that focuses the most on weight loss, diet renewal and becoming a “new you.” In January, you’ll be bombarded by articles, deals on gyms and diet foods and experts promising you the bikini body by summer. But there is one thing perhaps just as important as diet and exercise that will dictate how successful you are in your 2019 goals – and you probably won’t even hear about it. Your environment. Multiple studies have shown that who you choose in your social circle has a huge impact on diet, weight and activity level.
A 2018 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that exposure to environments with higher rates of obesity, not surprisingly, increased the risk of obesity for those that lived there (even if the move to these environments was temporary). Another study, in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that obesity “spreads like a virus” amongst social circles. Finally, a 2012 study found that your friend’s weight could influence your weight as well. If your friends were overweight, the chances of you being overweight went up. If they were normal weight, then chances are you would be too. Associations were seen with activity level as well. Both sedentary and active lifestyles were impacted. These studies show a clear connection between your weight, your eating habits, your activity level and the company you keep.
Imagine your goal is to lose weight or improve eating habits and your spouse, friend, or partner who shares a home with you continues to flood the pantry with chips and cookies, and the fridge with tempting meals. It would be harder to accomplish your goals, right? The question is: What do you do about it?
The answer is not to ditch your friends and family of course! Perhaps a more realistic approach is to sit down with those in your social circle and discuss your goals and objectives. You can also be proactive and avoid scenarios where bad choices will be easier to make. For example, if you enjoy dining out, ask if friends can frequent places where you know you can make healthy choices. If friends and family are not willing to keep unhealthy options out of the house, then ask that they keep their tempting foods out of sight by storing in opaque containers and in the back rows of the pantry. Studies show that these tactics work in reducing the risk of overeating and binging. Finally, you can take proactive steps by keeping healthy options within sight. For example, store fruits and vegetables in bowls or see-through containers. You can also consider joining clubs that focus on physical activity. Not only are they a great way to meet like-minded friends, but most likely, they will provide people in your life who encourage active lifestyle accountability.
Your goals in 2019 are yours alone – and only you can achieve them. Always remember, however, that your friends can help to make them, or break them.