The people that we hang out with tend to influence us the most, for example; if you hang out with a negative person, their negative lifestyle will rub off you; conversely, when you surround yourself with positive, optimistic people, you will likely find your own spirits start to lift. Friends, family, and people that we spend the most time with significantly influence our personal, as well as social behaviors.
It stands to reason, then, that the same would hold true for weight loss. In fact, studies have shown that eating and exercise habits can have a ripple effect. In one study, when people participated in a weight-loss program, their partners (who were not in the program) also lost weight which seems to support the idea that our nutrition and movement choices can directly impact those around us. Some health professionals and fitness coaches have also shared their take on this, and how to effectively stand your guard when friends and family are not as supportive as they should be.
If weight loss is contagious, then is the reverse also true? Can you gain weight as a result of the people around you? How much does the company you keep impact the number on the scale? “It is said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with,” says Lizeth Santamaria, founder, coach, and speaker at Discover Your Power. “I believe this is true, and that you can also apply this belief to weight loss and even weight gain.”
“One of the [negative] signs is when you see that your friends or family take actions that don’t support your weight-loss progress,” she says. For example, maybe your loved ones are fully aware of your expressed dietary concerns but choose a restaurant that has no dishes that are diet-compliant for you. Similarly, they might make unsupportive comments, such as “you’re so picky” or “just live a little.” I dealt with this a lot during my college years, but I just had to find the right balance that would help me move forward. That said, you might not want to completely cut out these people from your life, and you should not have to. With the right approach, it is possible to stay on track with your health and weight loss goals, even if you feel as though your inner circle is weighted negatively against you.
Know Your Circle
Think about the people you spend the most time with. Are your friends, family members, and loved ones asking you to skip your workouts and encouraging you to eat bad things? Or are they motivating you to keep up with your health and fitness goals, or even taking up healthy eating habits and working out along you?
“It is important to know whether the people that you choose to surround yourself with are on the same health journey as you,” Santamaria says. “This will help you decide whether or not they can be a positive influence when you are trying to make healthy choices [and] also [will] help you establish whether these people will understand and be supportive of your health journey.”
Once you have made this determination, you have the power to allow them to negatively or positively influence you. On the other hand, you also have the power to serve as a positive influence for them.
Be Confident in Your Commitment
Dani Singer, a trainer with Fit2Go Personal Training, notices that people often shy away from telling their partners or close friends about their new weight-loss plan. Some common reasons might include, “I don’t want it to be awkward,” or “I don’t want my friend/spouse to mock me” or “I don’t want to be embarrassed if I fail.” I was in this same boat last year when I was working on my weight and trying to shed off a few pounds. I became very secretive about it because I was afraid to not live up to expectations.
When working with new clients, Singer recommends that they talk to their friends or spouses about their weight-loss plan. “The key here is that you have to be genuinely committed to this plan, and communicate that clearly,” he says. “If you don’t take your own commitment seriously, you can’t expect anyone else to. That said, if you have a sincere conversation and explain your plan with confidence, you might be surprised by how supportive your loved ones actually are. They may even be willing to actively take steps to help, like providing extra accountability or refraining from eating junk in front of you.”
If, after having a sincere conversation, your loved one is still not supportive of your success, this likely signals a deeper issue that needs to be addressed. You deserve to be surrounded by people who encourage you.
Instead of Judging, Provide Healthy Opportunities
When attempting to make better food choices, it is easy to come off as self-righteous to those who have not made the same commitment. Alex McBrairty, a certified personal trainer with A-Team Fitness, notes that constantly calling out your friends for their bad eating habits is not likely to convert them to a healthier way of life.
“Everyone has their reasons for doing what they do,” McBrairty says. “It took very specific, motivating factors that led you to start your fitness journey and commit yourself to living a healthier life. Instead of ostracizing your friends, try to understand their motives. Once they find their own reasons, they will commit to making better choices, too.”
McBrairty suggests providing your loved ones with opportunities to take part in your healthy activities. Whether it is helping you cook a healthy meal, prepping food for the week or going on a weekend walk or jog together, offer frequent invitations to join you on [your] healthy adventures. “The key here is invitations,” he says. “Be persistent, but not pushy. Let them know that they can join you if they’d like, and let them know often.” Doing this will improve your relationship, and even serve as a bonding experience for you.
Stop Comparing Plates
If you find yourself eating more to equalize the portions of your friends or family members plates, your dining company might be influencing your eating decisions. Stop and pay attention during the next shared meal; do you feel that your portions or food choices need to be equal to that of your companions?
Personal trainer Kasey Shuler advises her clients to think about the other person less as a measure of comparison and more as a conversation companion. “When you have finished eating and are tempted to eat more to catch up with the other person’s amount, ask them a question and fill up on your social interaction meter instead of getting too stuffed on food,” she suggests.
Stick to Your Goals
Santamaria says the most important factor of success is to set up your health goals and stick to them. That might mean prioritizing your daily workout before hanging out with your friends, ordering a healthy option on the menu instead of the unhealthy foods your family is ordering or even declining certain activities that will take you off track from your health and fitness goals.
A few things Santamaria suggests to help you stick to your health goals include getting enough rest, prepping your meals, bringing healthy snacks along with you and incorporating fitness activities that you enjoy.
Be a Leader
Every social circle has a leader; someone who implicitly (or explicitly) decides what behaviors are normal in the group. Be that person.
“If unhealthy eating behaviors are the norm in your group, it makes sense that this would increase your chances of being overweight,” says McBrairty. “Stay committed to your program and share your successes (in a non-boastful way) to set up new group norms. Eventually, being fit and healthy will become the new normal in the group.”
One of the side benefits of prioritizing your own health is that, by default, you will become a positive influence on those around you. It is very positive to support strong friendships as well as carry out your health goals, remember that.