The blog

Choose Your Friends Wisely

by on May 02, 2012

As you may know, I love the sport of triathlon. My best friend is also a triathlete, and we train together and compete against each other from time to time. Sadly, I have never, ever beaten him. Not once. I haven’t even scared him.

All of my good friends are in fact very health conscious. I feel sorry for the waiters when we go out to dinner. “Can you put the oil on the side.” “Hold any cheese or dairy products.” “Do you have a vegetarian plate?”(me) It is like a scene from “When Harry Met Sally.” Our dinner conversations center around our latest cholesterol levels and our exercise plans.

Now this may seem annoying. Why would I surround myself with people that beat me in my sport daily and look better than me with their shirt off?

Your Social Group Often Determines Your Habits

There was a fascinating article in The New England Journal of Medicine a few years ago (Christakis NA, Fowler JH. The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. N Engl J Med 2007;357:370–379) that basically showed that social groups or cliques tended to have similar weights.

Other studies have shown that zip codes can have similar weight and health. In other words, we tend to mimic our peer groups’ behaviors and in so doing share their successes and their failures.

I bring this up because when seeing patients going through weight loss, I find that their peer group often becomes a stumbling block.

I find that when my patients begin to lose weight, their friends and family start to resent them. They are commonly told that they are losing too much weight, or that they look too skinny.

Weight is an issue on everybody’s mind and when a spouse sees his/her partner changing their life, they become concerned about their own health and worth. This can be seen with spouses, friends, and in the workplace.

People are threatened when somebody actually changes course in life and becomes healthy.

The sad thing is this jealousy can actually lead to divorce or peer group isolation. I have had patients tell me some of their friends will take them to dinner and insist they eat a hamburger or some other junk food, purposely trying to sabotage their success.

After all, more people in this country are overweight than normal weight, so your friends and family are likely to be overweight. If you lose weight, you are doing something they consider “abnormal” and therefore threatens their comfort zone.

“Keep away from those who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you believe that you too can become great.”
– Mark Twain

Build Your Support Group for Success

I am not saying you have to leave your spouse or your friends, but you do need to have a discussion with them about the importance of this journey you are taking.

You need to ask for their support and understanding and let them know that while your body and health may change, your feelings for them will not. Also, we luckily have so many ways to build new supportive peer groups.

Facebook is filled with excellent weight loss group pages. Most surgeon’s practices have support groups that meet regularly. Joining a gym or a Zumba class can expose you to many new friends who share your goals.

My friends are a bit fanatical in their fitness, but that drives me. If my peer group drank beer and watched sports every weekend, I may have done the same.

Instead, they challenge me to become better and healthier, and I owe a lot of my success to their support.