To lose weight, use the Halo Effect

Months ago, headlines warned that obesity and weight gain could be contagious.  In other words, if you hang out with obese people – you become obese.  Actually the truth goes more like this: you tend to hang out with like-minded people in general, who make you feel comfortable and share your values.  So if your values center around a sedentary lifestyle and lots of food, you’re likely to associate with people who share that lifestyle.  It’s highly unlikely you’d hang out with people who are training for a marathon and eating low fat food.  So no, obesity isn’t contagious; it’s more a sign of shared lifestyle choices.  Don’t imagine that you’ll gain weight because some co-workers, acquaintances or neighbors are obese.

What’s more likely is that, if family members are obese, you’ll be obese.  It’s a complicated interaction of genetics, environment and  learned food behaviors.  And a study published last year, and discussed recently, has some strangely good news about this connection: when an obese person gets bariatric surgery and starts losing weight, family members start losing weight, too.  It’s called the “halo effect”, and it’s known to work on other behaviors as well, such as giving up smoking.  This study followed 35 obese bariatric surgery patients and their obese family members for 12 months after surgery.   Adult family members lost significant weight, while the kids weight trended down.  Everyone exercised more and ate better, with less uncontrolled/emotional eating reported.

Another study looked at a 12-week team weight loss competition called Shape Up Rhode Island.  987 teams competed on both weight loss and physical activity.  Results showed that people on teams with more weight loss teammates lost more weight.  And significant weight loss tended to cluster on teams.  In other words, you’d lose more weight if you were on a team that was really dedicated to achieving weight loss results.  Peer pressure in a positive way.

So if you can’t catch the Halo Effect from a family member undergoing bariatric surgery,  organize a group of people who are likely to work towards weight loss success, rather than give up and go out for doughnuts.

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