Every winter the flu goes around.
No matter how hard you try, when you’re around people with the flu, you’re bound to get it too.
The only way to avoid it is to stay away.
Everyone knows this.
But what if I told you that you can catch a lean body bug the same way?
It’s true and backed by empirical research.
Let me explain.
Bad behavior is incredibly contagious
We’re gonna talk about weight loss. Actually, the opposite: obesity.
But, let’s get one thing out of the way first.
Yes, obesity is partly genetic.
But only partly. And for the purposes of this article, we’re only going to focus on the behavioral causes.
…obesity IS contagious.
That’s right, people, you are more likely to “catch” obesity, just like the flu, when you’re exposed to it.
Here’s the game-changing study:
Dr. Nocolas Chastof of Harvard Medical School studied 12,067 people over two years.
His findings make sense, but are shocking, nevertheless.
The study found that when one person is or becomes obese, the odds that mutual friends will become obese tripled.
Your chances of getting obese go up 3x when your friends are.
What’s more, proximity isn’t necessarily a cause. In our hyper-connected world, catching our friends’ contagious, hazardous behavior can happen between thousands of miles.
So why is the force of a behavior, such as obesity, so strong?
Quite simply: It’s really hard to resist catching the bug.
The power of drinking, spitting and Ugg-wearing
We, as rational humans, do some pretty irrational stuff.
- College dorm dwellers binge drink.
- Baseball players compulsively spit.
- Young women wear $200 furry Ugg boots.
This behavior is NOT rational. Nor does it make them better students, hitters, or fashionistas either.
So why do it?
Because that’s what everyone else does!
Contagious behavior, like obesity (or the opposite, staying lean) presents two challenges:
- It’s hard to make rational (good) decisions.
- It’s easy to make irrational (bad) decisions.
Yes, this is peer pressure.
But it’s more than that.
You don’t need classic peer pressure. Hearing that you ought to “do as we do” is not common anyway.
You simply need to see it to catch it.
Observe your friends, colleagues, or roommates acting a certain way and you will invariably catch the bug.
Even if that means being okay with, as is relevant to this blog, eating like an asshole. If you see your friends doing it, you’ll do it, too.
So how do we use this knowledge of behaviors, like having a lean body, to our advantage?
Treat bad diet and exercise habits like the flu.
Stay the hell away.
The question is how…
How to steer clear of those contagious behaviors
Let’s face it, nobody likes being THAT guy.
- The only one in the office who brings his lunch from home.
- That friend that doesn’t want to throw down for pizza.
- The guy at company dinner who won’t eat what everyone else is being served.
Even virtually, people LOVE to take pictures of their gluttonous get-togethers.
So like a contagious bug, if you want to avoid catching a “fat bug”, you have to take action.
I’m not going to recommend firing your “infectious” friends.
But you must remember this:
Simply SEEING your friends’ behavior is enough for you to get “infected.”
So my recommendations for staying clear of a “fat bug” fall into two categories.
- Real friendships.
- Virtual friendships.
Note: The recommendations below may seem harsh. But, I’d be willing to argue that they’re less harsh than telling your grandchildren you have diabetes because you weren’t willing to… Yeah, you get the point.
Here we go.
Real friendships refer to the people you interact with in-person. They are friends, colleagues, teammates that you see live.
I’m not recommending firing your friends.
I’m just suggesting you architect who you see in-person, if possible. Try to make those people the ones who take good care of themselves.
Host dinners: When you’re the one making the menu, your friends have to eat as healthy as you.
Avoid traps: Sure, nobody wants to be a recluse. But there’s nothing wrong with telling your crew that you’ll meet them out after dinner.
Inquire at interviews: Job interviews are perfect for avoiding contagious behaviors you don’t want. Ask about the culture of healthy eating in the office. After all, these are the people with whom you’ll be spending 40 hours per week. Why would you want to join an office of junky eaters if you can avoid it?
Virtual friendships refer to the people you interact with online. These are friends you see on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. Certainly there’s some overlap with your real friends (at least I hope!).
Some things that might help:
Give praise: Whether they’re new friends or old, giving credit for eating well goes a long way. Plus, it will come back around as praise for you.
But eventually, you might be wise to…
Unfollow “bad” friends: Even if they don’t show pictures of their food, seeing them in their natural state is enough for you to catch their bad habits.
Follow new “good” friends: These people don’t need to become REAL friends of yours. But just seeing them and their healthy food pics in your social news feeds can help. Plus, most of them will deliver tons of praise if you show off your healthy ways. I’m happy to be one of them. 🙂