Turns out, the answer may be yes – depending on the kind of weight loss support they’re giving you. Some friends may offer you help in losing weight, while others could be sabotaging your efforts.
You get a lot from your friendships. Social connection. Shared history. Often a good laugh. But your friends could also be having an effect on your weight loss efforts — and that may not always be a good thing.
On one hand, research shows that people who are overweight or obese tend to have friends or romantic partners who are also overweight. “It is possible that people merely choose to affiliate with others who are similar to them,” says Tricia M. Leahey, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown Medical School and the Miriam Hospital Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center in Providence, R.I. “However, it is also quite plausible that weight status is ‘contagious.’ For example, if we spend more time with overweight individuals, we may be more likely to gain weight. There seems to be more support for this latter interpretation.”
But before you dump your buddies, keep in mind that other studies show friends can also keep us healthy and provide weight loss support. For example, one study of more than 3,500 Australian women found that those who moved in a healthier circle of friends ate better and exercised more. Leahey agrees, saying, “If you want to lose weight, it may be beneficial to do so with like-minded friends and family members.”
Friends Who Undermine Your Efforts
It’s no secret that obesity is a growing epidemic, and we could all use a little help losing weight. The key is finding the right kind of weight loss support and realizing that not all of your current friends may be providing it. Be on the lookout for these personality profiles and scenarios that could work against your efforts to lose weight:
- The saboteur. “Friends can often seem to be supportive, even as they are sabotaging you,” notes Stacey Grieve, author of Why Are You Weighting? It’s Not the Food That’s Making You Fat! and developer and facilitator of the Triumph! Weight Management Coaching Program in Toronto, Ont., Canada. “For instance, the friend who says, ‘Oh, you’ve done so well! You deserve to have this cake/cookie/forbidden food just this once.’ Although the friend is acknowledging your success, they are also providing temptation coupled with encouragement to ‘fall off the wagon.’”
- The quitting-encourager. This type of friend sees you struggling to lose weight and, while seeming to be looking out for you, really isn’t by making statements such as, “Are you sure this is all worth it? It seems so hard.”
- The food buddy. This might be the friend you used to overeat with or enjoyed junk food treats together, never judging each other despite possible obesity. She might be worried that, now that the relationship doesn’t include food anymore, you might start being critical of her eating habits.
- The overweight friend. Maybe you were overweight together or maybe you were the heavy one to this thinner companion. In either case, your new weight loss changes and threatens the whole dynamic and perhaps the relationship, too.
- The attention hog. This friend may be used to being the center of attention and resents being upstaged by you and your weight loss. She may either try to reduce the amount of attention aimed at you or up the ante by actively trying to draw more attention her way.
There are several ways to handle these types of friends. Many of them may not even realize what they are doing to sabotage your weight loss. Consider giving them some time to adjust to the new you, or talk openly about what you see happening to the relationship. Some friends may understand and change their behavior. Others may refuse to change or be incapable of it. In that case, Grieve says, “With friends like these, who needs enemies!” You should simply move on.
Friends Can Boost Your Success
Fortunately, many friends can have a positive influence on your dieting efforts. “Friends can help each other by losing weight together, providing helpful encouragement, sharing tools for weight loss, and portraying a general sense of approval and acceptance of each other’s weight loss goals,” says Leahey.
We’ve all heard it takes a village to raise a child. It may take a village to lose weight and combat obesity as well — or at least to make losing weight easier. The trick is, it needs to be the right village filled with supportive people.