veronica hendrix

Veronica Hendrix

*In talking with my 40-something female friend about her winter upcoming trip and inquiring whether or not she was well on her way towards losing the weight she said she wanted to lose to get back into last year’s ski outfits, she informed me that she decided not to bother with trying to rid herself of the 15 pounds she had gained since last year.

When I asked why she glibly remarked, “Well most the people on the trip are all over fifty and out of shape. Hell, whether I lose the weight or not, I’ll still be among the slimmest ones there.”

“Well you go ahead now with ya bad self,” I replied using every ounce of restraint within me not say what was really on my mind.  With that said, this piece deserves an encore.

For the first time in my life, I am waging my own battle with the budge.

But I’ve got to tell you, these days it feels more like a full on war.

I am fighting valiantly, refusing to be a causality of the obese brigade. In fact I’m fighting by working out, spinning four days  a week and doing strength training with a few of the guys at the gym who love helping damsels in distress.  It’s tough. And I can honestly say it is a struggle to motivate myself to roll out of my comfy bed to get to the gym at 5:30 a.m. each morning.

My age, heredity, and love of lavish dinning, are all working against me, at least that’s what all the research says. That’s why I have to fight so valiantly against the love handles that don’t love me back.

Just when I thought I had uncovered every possible cause of the “middle aged spread mystery” from metabolism to menopause, a wrench was thrown in my soup by the Harvard School of Medicine.

Their report, released in the England Journal of Medicine, says that “obesity is contagious – not like a virus is contagious, but in a social sense.”

The report says that your network of friends can literally make you fat. That’s right; birds of a feather can get fat together.

Over 12,000 people took part in this study.  It found that if your friends became obese, your chances of becoming obese increase a whopping – not Whopper  –57%. And if your siblings are obese you are 40% more likely to be obese. But if your spouse is obese, your risk of becoming obese drops to 37% – now that’s really interesting.

So what does this mean?

While our diet, sedentary lifestyle, age, and genetics contribute to the epidemic of obesity we see all around us, we need to recognize that obesity can and does spread through our social networks, from person to person, pound by pound. Essentially, we are heavily influenced – no pun intended – by our network of friends in ways that can subtly influence us to change our attitude about “what constitutes an acceptable body size,” according to the study.

One of the researchers of the study said we are more likely to think that it’s OK to be heavier when we look around and see that our friends and family members have put on excess pounds, especially when our weight gain isn’t commensurate with theirs.

It’s a fascinating study, one that was the topic of lighthearted discussion among my buddies at the gym. One of my workout colleagues said, “I heard about that study, and I’ve found that sometimes you have to get new friends when you are on a mission to drop the excess pounds.”

That’s pretty drastic, but he’s dropped some major pounds and looking fine and fit.

I recently tried an experiment while dining with my network of friends, all of whom love fine dinning and fine wine as I do.

When I ordered my cocktail, I ordered a single, red wine spritzer with sparkling water and a twist of lime. They all raised an eyebrow because they know how much I enjoy a generously poured glass (or two) of wine with hints of currant, plum, and mocha. One of my friends thought it sounded refreshing and ordered one too.

Next, when I ordered my entrée, I asked the waiter to package half of my meal in a take home container and plate the other half.  Of course this elicited the anticipated question, “why?” I told them that the portion size was enough for two servings and I wanted to have one for lunch the next day.  Surprisingly, a few of my friends agreed that the portions were “supersized” and followed my lead.

So what does this mean?

It means that the inverse is true. We can influence our social network in positive ways and that influence can be just as contagious too. In other words, birds of a feather don’t have to get fat together. Now that’s one for the researchers to study

Veronica Hendrix is a syndicated columnist and feature writer whose work has covered the span of the human continuum – from clinical trials of male contraceptives, to the gang violence. She is the owner of Bromont Avenue Foods. She is the author of “Red Velvet Gourmet Spice Rub and Seasoning Heart Healthy Recipes.” Visit http://bromontavefoods.com for more information.  For comments, interviews, speaking engagements or moderator requests please send an email to [email protected]