Recapping Weeks 11 and 12 of Kathie J. and Larry’s weight loss journey.
With Holly Wyatt, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center
In Weeks 11 and 12, we look at your social environment — who do you spend the most time with? This could be anyone from your family to your neighbors to your co-workers to your significant other. Whether you realize it or not, this social environment influences your behavior. And we have research to prove it.
When we look at Body Mass Index (BMI), or one measure of body composition, we find that people tend to be friends with people who have a similar BMI as them; people who are overweight tend to hang out with other people who are overweight. That’s because human behavior is contagious. In other words, you’re more likely to be healthy if you’re around people who are healthy.
When you’re by yourself, you probably don’t think, “I want to go to happy hour every night of the week.” But when your friends or co-workers are going out different nights of the week, it feels normal to join them. This has a major impact on your eating habits, and often, we don’t even realize it.
The great thing is, it works in the other direction, too. When we’re around people who go hiking on the weekends or workout at the gym during lunch, we’re more likely to think that’s normative behavior. It rubs off on us so that soon we find ourselves doing those behaviors too.
Mapping Your Social Network
In State of Slim, we work on changing your social environment. The first step, as always, is awareness. You need to understand who is influencing your behavior. Only then can you decide whether you need to make a change about who’s influencing you.
Think about it like you’re climbing a mountain: There are people ahead of you and people behind you. The people higher on the mountain reach back, give you a hand and pull you up. The people lower on the mountain will either pull you down, or they’ll ask you to pull them up with you.
To really help Kathie J. and Larry make a change, I had them make two lists: One for the positive people that are helping them, and one for the people who are influencing unhealthy behaviors. It’s important to remember that these lists have nothing to do with what kind of person they are; you’re not judging people as “bad” or “good.” You’re simply becoming aware of how your environment influences you. Once you’re aware, you start to think more consciously about how you spend your time. Maybe you start hanging out with the co-workers who go on a run at lunch rather than the co-workers who go to happy hour. Or maybe you spend time with friends who hike on the weekends instead of hanging out with friends who encourage unhealthy eating and drinking.
Be the Change
This is an uncomfortable assignment for people. They don’t want to think about cutting people out of their lives. And in many cases, there are people you can’t cut out. When you have a family member or co-worker or someone who influences you to do the behaviors you don’t want to do anymore, you can “be the change.” In the same way the people above you on the mountain pull you up to what they’re doing, you can pull up the people below you.
What does this look like? You can be overt about it, like organizing an activity around a healthy behavior for you and your friends in lieu of the unhealthy activity. Or you can be stealth about it, bringing a healthy dish to a party, going for a walk at lunch, or simply leading by example. By doing those behaviors, it will rub off on them just like their behaviors have the potential to rub off on you.
Why Colorado is the Leanest State
One of the many reasons I think Colorado is the leanest state is that it draws people who are physically active and want to be healthy; people move here because they want to be active and healthy too. Even the people who didn’t come here because of that are more likely to be exposed to people who live an active and healthy life and they see it as normal.
Using that information, you can try to control your micro environment, deciding who’s going to help you up, when you need to cut the rope, and when you’re going to be the change.
Your Take-Away: Make a list of the people you spend the most time with. Write down how you spend your time together and how they are influencing you. Very quickly, you will get a picture of the people who are more likely to help you stay on track and the people who are not. Then, decide how you can spend more time with people who are helping you up the mountain, and how you want to change the relationships with people who are keeping you anchored on the mountain. Maybe you stop spending so much time with some of them, or maybe you change the way you spend time together.
Kathie J. and Larry have already lost more than 40 pounds between the two of them. Those are amazing transformations. Keep following them as they finish up the last four weeks of the program: Follow and support Larry and Kathie J.