The “Friend Diet”: How Your Social Circle Can Help You Lose Weight

Did you know that if your two best friends are fat, you’re 150 percent more likely to be fat, too?

Obesity spreads like a cold or the flu. The Framingham Heart Study — data on the health and well-being of people in the town of Framingham, Massachusetts, spanning three generations back to 1948 — shows that people with a friend who became clinically obese were 57 percent more likely to become obese, too.

Astonishingly, you don’t even have to know someone to be influenced by them. In Framingham, people whose friend’s got fat were 20 percent more likely to gain weight, too.

The research — by Harvard’s Nicholas A. Christakis and UC San Diego’s James H. Fowler, authors of “Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How they Shape Our Lives” — shows the powerful influence of social networks on our health.

What — if anything — can you do to ensure the social influences shaping you are healthy ones?

Join a Group of Active People

A walking group, a sports team, even a gardening club — all these are likely to help you build the kinds of friendships that will encourage an active, healthy life. Your local chapter of the Sierra Club will likely have organized physical activities likes hikes, skiing, and camping trips. Just show up — you’re sure to meet people who will encourage you to stay active.

Find a Healthy Mentor

Blogger Jeff Goins recommends the following steps: 1. find someone you want to be like; 2. study him or her to see what his habits are; and 3. take your time before making the request. But it doesn’t stop there — one of the most important steps is to show appreciation for all that your mentor does. Goins has some great ideas for maintaining and deepening a mentor relationship on his website.

Date Someone Active

You mate has a huge effect on your behavior. One study in Israel showed that the wives of men who were participating in a weight loss program lost weight themselves when they learned about the diet — even though they weren’t officially dieting.[i] If you don’t have a partner, find one! Websites like can be a great resource. If you struggle with dating, hire a coach — someone like Evan Marc Katz or Rachel Greenwald.

Turns out that weight gain (or loss) isn’t the only thing we “catch” from our friends.  Smoking, excessive drinking, tendency to divorce and even unhappiness are also contagious. So, know that your friends impact you — and if you don’t have enough of the good ones, go on a Healthy Friend Diet!

[i] Golan, R., Schwarzfuchs, D., Stampfer, M.J., Shai, I. Halo effect of a weight-loss trial on spouses: the DIRECT-Spouse study. Public Health Nutrition (2010), 13: 544-549


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