It's personal. That's what most of us assume when we think about weight. Oh, if only I hadn't had that doughnut this morning. Why didn't I ask the waiter not to bring the breadbasket at lunch. And why didn't I get out to take a walk at lunch? But as it turns out, your weight isn't only about you; it's also about your friends, family and coworkers.
A well-known 2007 study done by Nicholas Christakis, then at Harvard University, and James Fowler of the University of Pennsylvania found that if you have a close friend who is obese, your chances of becoming so as well increase by 57 percent, and if your spouse is obese, your chances are 37 percent. While the reasons for those surprising results may be complex, research proving the close relationship between friends and weight keeps accumulating.
A more recent study discovered that our friends influence our eating habits not only when we are together but when we are not. Traci Mann, founder of the Health and Eating Lab at the University of Minnesota, explained the experiment this way: Researchers put three friends into a room together and brought in a tray of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Two of the participants had been told ahead of time not to eat the cookies. So what did the third friend do? The same. But here's the interesting twist. Afterward, the friends were put into three different rooms, each with a plate of the cookies, and the third friend still resisted them. Mann's explanation for this mimicking of self-control? “People conform to groups and learn their habits from other people."
"We typically seek out people who are similar to us,” says Angela Murad, wellness dietitian at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living program. “And we find that our patients really struggle with social activities that involve eating.” That's partly because we are usually not being active when we dine out, she says, and meals often include alcohol, which is high in calories and diminishes our awareness of how much we are consuming.
When it comes to losing weight, the company you keep continues to makes a difference. According to a 2016 study by a Baylor University researcher, heavier people were more likely to successfully lose weight if their social circle included slimmer buddies.