Want to peel off those unwanted pounds, pronto? Double your chances of weight loss success by joining forces with a like-minded (read eager to slim down) buddy -- or two or three. Turns out that social networks have a tremendous impact on how you behave when it comes to health, whether you are trying to stop lighting up or are intent on lightening up.
Weight gains and losses are especially susceptible to the influence of friends and family: A woman's chances of being obese increase nearly 60% if her BFF is gaining, too, and rises about 40% if a sibling or husband starts tipping the scales.
The message behind this research isn't to move into a Wi-Fi-free cave if you want to slim down, but to use the power of friendship to meet your weight loss goals. If you don't believe it works, you've never watched The Biggest Loser.
Here are some tips for creating your own team approach to weight loss:
- Dine together. Making healthful, low-cal meals night after night is daunting, especially when it comes to dinner (you're tired, it's late, and take-out Thai with a Chunky Monkey chaser looks awfully appealing). Make regular dates with your diet pal to dine as a duo. You'll keep each other out of food trouble, and sharing or alternating the cooking when you can't eat out makes everything easier.
- Divide and conquer. When people eat together, new research shows they're likely to sync up their portion sizes. In other words, if one diner reaches for a second slice of bread, the other is likely to do the same. So when you're eating out, ask for an extra plate, and go halfsies on everything: Share an appetizer, split an entree (no worries; the wait staff is used to it). Not only will you keep fat and calories in check, but if one of you "forgets" to ask the waiter to remove the bread basket or chips, the other will remember. Just gotta have that margarita? Share it, too (then switch to club soda with a twist during the meal).
- Double up on cooking. Swap fave recipes, and make enough for each other. Salmon with Pepita-Lime Butter, anyone? Or make a date to shop the farmers market, and then make a low-cal casserole or soup afterward. Split, freeze, and serve to families or friends later.
- Join the gym. You'll get more bang for your biceps curls if you do them with a buddy. You're likely to lose a third more weight than if you work out by yourself, according to University of Pittsburgh researchers. Making dates to meet at the gym, the jogging track, or a pole-dancing class is likely to keep you from wimping out on your workout. After all, do you really want your BFF to be miffed when you don't show up for Zumba? If you don't have a friend who wants to work out, you can still take advantage of the power of peer pressure by signing up for an exercise class. Gym attendance for class takers is 69% versus only 54% for people who work out on their own, University of Oregon researchers say.
- Make a date with man's best friend. There's no reason your workout buddy has to be a biped. Numerous studies report that dog owners tend to log more walking time than folks who don't have pups. One study in particular found that dog owners are about 34% more likely to get the recommended amount of exercise: They walk about an hour more each week than their canine-less comrades. Want a dog but can't have one where you live? Offer to walk a friend's mutt regularly, or volunteer for exercise duty at your local animal shelter.
- Be a groupie. Don't have a pal to pare down with? Then get your social support by joining a weight loss program that includes regular meet-ups. Groups like Weight Watchers have proved more effective at helping people drop pounds than self-help approaches. Plus, think about it: Lose weight, gain friends. It's a total win-win.
Are you teaming up with a friend to lose weight? What have you found to be most helpful to do together?
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