We all know that laughter is catching. And you’ve probably been forced to stifle an empathetic yawn when faced with a sleepy co-worker too. Chances are that you have your friends to thank for some of your vocab, and perhaps even the way you dress. But could they be responsible for your slender physique, or lack thereof? We asked our resident GP and weight loss expert, Dr Penny Adams, to look a little deeper into whether weight loss is contagious. You might be surprised by what she discovered!
It’s Not Just DNA and Diet
The role of nutrition, exercise and intermittent fasting in maintaining a healthy mind and body can’t be denied. However, when it comes to weight loss, is it possible that we’re ‘infected’ by the people we spend most of our time with? Could weight loss be contagious?
We know that our tendency to gain weight is partly determined by the genes we inherit from our parents and increasingly, it also seems that gut bacteria plays a role. Of course, we live in an obesogenic environment where we are constantly tempted to eat too much. But what about our friends and family, and those with whom we interact on a daily basis – do they influence our weight?
According to recent research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the answer is yes!
Are Your Friends Making You Fat?
The study found that your risk of developing obesity would be 57% higher if a friend became obese and 40% higher if your sibling or spouse became obese. To put it another way: the magnitude of the effect seems to be even greater than the role of genes.
Even after controlling for factors such as socioeconomic status, and weight gain with age and gender, the researchers concluded that obesity seemed to spread through social ties. They suggested that this was not just due to sharing a similar environment, but that people who were closely socially tied changed their ‘norms’ as to what was appropriate body size.
Can Slim Spread Too?
This all sounds a bit depressing, especially if most of your friends are struggling with weight issues. However, what if the flip-side is also true? What if your friends are losing weight? Could this have a ripple or flow-on effect? Here’s where we get to the good news.
Researchers from the University of Connecticut found that the partners of individuals enrolled in a weight loss program seemed to mimic the participant’s weight loss. The lead author, behavioural psychologist, Professor Amy Gorin says: “When one person changes their behaviour, the people around them change”. This ‘mirroring’ behaviour is even stronger when someone admires the behaviour they are copying.
The Ripple Effect
So, if you’re considering giving intermittent fasting a try, remember: when you lose weight, not only are you improving your own health, you are potentially improving the health of your spouse, your family and your friends. That has got to be one of the best ‘value-adds’ that I can think of!
Everything is easier when you’ve got a friend or family member by your side. That’s why we love the concept of making a ‘fast friend’ – someone who can cheer you on, console you when hangry hits hard and steer you away from the cookie jar. How do you and your friends help each other stay healthy? Share your tips and ideas in the comments below!