Are your friends making you fat?

Diet and exercise aren’t the only factors that influence your ability to lose weight. The people you hang around can jeopardize successful weight loss as well, according to a study inObesity.

“[Your casual friends and acquaintances] can make or break you,” says Robin Miller, MD, medical director of Triune Integrative Medicine in Medford, Ore. “You can do really well and then they can sabotage you -- like ones that don't want to lose weight themselves or are jealous that you lost weight.”

Researchers examined the relationship between friends, both acquaintances and close friends, who are overweight and obese participants trying to lose weight. It turns out that it’s harder to lose weight if your social network is overweight, too. Participants with overweight social friends didn’t lose as much weight compared to participants whose social group was on the lighter side.

“It's like all social contagion in that all kinds of behaviors are spread through groups,” says Ramani Durvasula, PhD, professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles.

If you’re trying to lose weight but the odds are stacked against you because of your social network, don’t throw your arms in the air and say, “I give up!” You can be the person spearheading your group into change. Try these fun ways to get your friends on the weight-loss train:

  • Make it a competition: Dr. Miller suggests creating challenges to spur healthy eating and weight loss among your group of friends. Next time you go to a fast food restaurant, challenge your friends to see who can order the healthiest thing on the menu. And there are a variety of fitness and weight loss apps you can tap in to where you can challenge others and track how everyone is doing. If you are still swimming upstream, use money to motivate your friends into action. It’s harder to cheat when you’ve got money to lose or gain.

  • Be the planner: Plan activities that gets everyone out of the house and moving, says Dr. Durvasula. “It could be anything that gets you [and your friends] out of the house and makes it a little harder to go snack and eat,” she says. Go dancing, roller-skating, take a hike or just go for a walk in the park or town.

  • Turn dinner night into game night: Turn the usual dinner night into an event where you eat but also do something else. “Every time you come together with a meal cut it with something else. Make it a game night or make it a night where you paint,” says Durvasula. “The minute you break away from food you realize that you're full.”

  • Save money: Spending money at the same restaurant with your friends every week? Instead of ordering your usual with a side of fries, pool the money with your dining buddies and take a trip. “Put it into an account and in six to nine months you ma

y have enough money to go on a very interesting vacation together and you can be active,” Durvasula says. “You can go to the beach or the mountains and rent a cabin … and planning something long-term and active gives all of you a goal.”

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