You've probably heard the adage "Birds of a feather always flock together." which describes people's tendency to hang around folks who share their point of view. For better or worse, this is how humans often behave. We pick friends who reflect ourselves. If you like a certain football team then most everyone of your football buddies is a fan of that team.
If you like a certain music band and go to its concerts, practically everyone else in attendance enjoys that music, too. The same thing applies to lifestyle habits. Do you notice that your friends, family and close associates often look similar to you? Similar body shape, habits, likes and dislikes? At some level you're influencing and being influenced by the people closest to you. And this can have either a positive or detrimental effect on your life.
Society Shapes Perception
Take a moment to think about the TV shows you watch. What are the themes of the commercials that catch your attention? Society plays a big part in how we perceive the world around us. For example, ads for low fat meals may influence you to watch your fat intake. But the manufacturer's decision to produce low fat foods was heavily influenced by customer demand.
If a significant proportion of customers refuse to purchase food with empty calories, it cuts into the producer's profit margin leaving the company little choice but to conform to what customers want. So it stands to reason that the sum is not greater than the parts, i.e. we influence society because we are society.
Are Your Family and Friends Secretly Making You Fat?
Now we're back to the headline question although I phrased it a little differently this time because I want to emphasize the personal connection between you and those in your social circle. Well, I was reading an interesting article in the International Journal of Nutrition and Physical Activity wherein scientists looked at how people's decision to participate in a healthy lifestyle was influenced by family, friends, neighbors and society.
What they discovered from studying lower-income women residing in Victoria, Australia was that people were influenced by the actions of their family and friends. For example, women who exercised regularly and had good eating habits often took the cue from friends and family whom were already doing these things. And they're more likely to associate with people who are exercising and eating right.
On the other hand, if most of a woman's friends didn't exercise, choose healthy foods, etc. she was less likely to stray from what everyone else was doing.
This really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, we do it all the time. Obesity is a national epidemic, nearly two-thirds of Americans are obese or overweight. How did we get to this point? Take a look around you. How many people in your family believe that exercise and healthy eating are important?
Have you ever waited to see what others are having for dinner before deciding on that extra slice of pie or serving of pasta? When the new year began, did you and your friends make a promise to sign up for a health club membership?
If the answer is 'yes', are you sticking to it? If you happened to say 'no', can you think of why that is the case? The point that I'm making is that people don't always do things on a whim, such things are rare. Instead we wait to see what others are up to, we want to know if the action that we're contemplating is safe for us to follow through.
We also need validation from others. If most of the people you're close with enjoy watching movies and sporting events, but scoff at the idea of actually participating in physical exercise, odds are that you won't go against them. You like these people and you want them to continue liking you, too. You don't want to displease them and then one day look up and see that they're not your friends anymore.
Sure, I understand. We've all been there at one time or another. (By the way, I've published an article for people who have come to a crossroad in life. Give it a read.)
All It Takes Is One
But the power of one is amazing. All it takes is one person to turn things around. Yes. One person. You. If you decide to exercise on a regular basis and make healthy food choices - and do these consistently - odds are that people will notice. If your family and friends see that your body is toned and that you're more energetic, alert and confident, they might just follow your lead.
Not only that, you might just attract the attention of new people who also enjoy healthy lifestyle. In other words, you could make some new friends and expand your social circle.
So take a few minutes. Think about how you are influencing your family and friends and vice versa. Do you like things as they are? Do you want to make changes in your life? How will you do it? Tell us about it in the comments.
I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him. (Acts 10:34-38)
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Ball et al: Is healthy behavior contagious: associations of physical norms with physical activity and healthy eating. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2010 7:86.
"Are The People You Associate With Secretly Making You Fat?" copyright © 2011 Living Fit, Healthy and Happy(SM). All Rights Reserved.