When thinking about eating healthier or losing weight, we tend to focus on the types of foods we eat, how many calories they have, or how much we exercise.
But in doing this, we may miss an essential piece of the puzzle – who we spend time with.
A Harvard study by James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis shows that our friends’ habits have a huge influence on our health – especially if they are friends of the same gender. In fact, the study showed that friends and their habits affect our health even more than our spouses do, even though we cook or eat with our spouses daily!
That’s because we are more likely to compare our body images with friends of the same sex. In other words, if your friends weigh more than you do, you may feel less pressure to watch what you eat, as you are “the skinny one”.
The study data bears out this finding – if your friends are overweight, you are 57% more likely to be overweight yourself. While if your spouse is overweight, you are just 37% more likely to be overweight.
And it’s not just our friends’ eating habits we need to look out for. The same study found that you are 36% more likely to smoke if your friends do. You are also likely to drink more alcohol, and be less happy if these are traits shared by your friends.
What you can do about it:
- Think about who you spend your time with. If you have friends who prioritize healthy eating and exercise, consider upping the amount of time you spend with them and adopting their habits.
- If your friends don’t have particularly healthy habits, look for new people you can add to your existing social circles. A beginners’ yoga class, workplace walking club or healthy cooking class are all great options to explore.
- Take the initiative to plan healthier social activities with your existing friends. Instead of going for a heavy meal of pizza and beer, suggest cooking a healthier meal together at home! Or look for activities which are fun but involve exercise – like a walking tour, a trip to the bowling alley or a group salsa lesson.