Recently I read a short article musing whether or not obesity was contagious. My first impulse was to say “hell no”, that the article was essentially saying that people have no personal responsibility about their weight gain or loss. It’s like the excuse I used to make “It’s genetic that I am 250 pounds” — um, not so much. I was 250 pounds because I didn’t exercise, I binged on unhealthy food and I ate triple portions. Period. It wasn’t genetics. It wasn’t my thyroid. It wasn’t my metabolism. It was the choices I made in my life.
This does not mean I am unsympathetic to the plight of obese people. I understand and sympathize because I’ve been there. I felt helpless and like I would never lose the weight when I was fat. When I started losing weight I never got my hopes up that I’d be “skinny” because I wasn’t sure I would ever lose the 100 pounds. Each pound lost was a happy surprise that kept me going.
“Obese families and friends usually have two things in common: food choices and activity levels or more accurately, lack of activity. Obese parents tend to raise obese children. Obese family and friends hang out and eat the same kinds of detrimental foods and participate in the same kinds of detrimental habits,” say co-authors Dian Griesel, Ph.D. and Tom Griesel of the new book, TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust.
In terms of the article claiming obesity can be “contagious” I do agree that it’s EASIER to make bad choices when everyone else is making bad choices. If we grow up in a household that doesn’t value healthy eating or exercise, those concepts will feel foreign.
The New England Journal of Medicine did a study that showed that obesity is “socially contagious.” That means that people tend to follow suit when their friends and family become obese or lose weight.
When I was trying to lose weight I stopped going out to happy hour with friends. I didn’t think I was strong enough to resist the fattening food and there were definitely certain friends that contributed to my making bad choices. I had certain friends who were also overweight and ate just like I did. What we did together was EAT. Perhaps that was all we really had in common: going out together and indulging in bad food choices.
I’ve also talked about being in relationships with men who were not supportive. In fact, one specifically did everything he could to sabotage my healthy living efforts. I dumped him pretty quickly as a result. Thankfully, Michael is into fitness and eating healthy too. We’re a perfect match in our goals.
On the flipside, when I started to get healthy, I saw a lot of people around me start to do the same. So in a way, my healthy lifestyle was contagious. My neighbor Star started to lose weight and she was right behind me in trying to lose about 80 pounds. Whenever I lost more weight, I gave her my clothes that were too big on me. My mom saw how well swimming worked for me and she started swimming to lose weight too. Other friends took notice and did their own things to lose weight. It made me really happy and proud that I could inspire people in my life to get healthy!
Now that I am healthier and into fitness, I feel like I am becoming immune to this “contagion.” I have to work hard to keep the weight off, I have to make conscious decisions to choose the healthy food over the junk food, but I never want to go back to my old ways. I don’t want to gain the weight back, I don’t want to be obese again. I want to resist the temptations. One way to do that is to surround myself with other healthy people. I like spending time with friends who want to workout, run, hike, bike. I have a partner that shares my passion for fitness and supports my healthy choices.
So yes, in a way obesity can be contagious but it doesn’t have to be. Lastly, check out MizFit’s excellent post on finding motivation.
QUESTION: Do you think obesity is contagious? What are your thoughts on this issue?