Friday, August 10, 2012

Because Friends Matter.......

     This Friendship Day, take a good, long, close look at your dearest friends, the ones whose ideas, words and actions influence (maybe even inspire) you. They are the ones that make it all worthwhile and sometimes are the sole reason you make it through the day in one piece. Treasure them, make a difference to them. Did you know the biggest gift you could give them tomorrow is the gift of HEALTH?

     It’s called the ‘Halo Effect’. Scientists first started using this term on observing patients recovering from bariatric (weight loss) surgery and their families. While making changes in their eating habits and lifestyle, these patients influenced family members to follow suit – to make healthy changes and lose excess weight. This term is also used with a negative connotation - that obesity spreads like a virus through social connections. In other words, gaining weight is ‘infectious’.

     As a nutritionist, I’ve noticed that groups of friends or family members have a similar tendency to either be obese, overweight or normal weight. I’ve also noticed that if my client is obese, then the odds are very high that one or more members of the family are as well. The funny thing is you don’t even have to be meeting these friends or family members often. People you love, even if at a distance can influence you and your weight (though science says this must be a really close connection).

     Friends who hang out together tend to eat the same kind of food and have more or less the same activity level, so do family members – this is the logical assumption. So, when you’re taking that long, close look at your friends, ask yourself if their weight is OK for their height? Consider your shared time – do you spend it eating in the college canteen / cool coffee hangout or do you hang out on the beach, throwing a Frisbee / playing football or cricket? For those of us not in school or college anymore – our colleagues are our daily social group – same question. Or maybe you are a homemaker – do you hang out with friends at home – even bigger chances of indulging and sitting around?

     Consider when friends drop in for a visit – what do you serve? Fried stuff, sweets or processed foods (or all the above)? Although this is ‘traditional’, you’ve got to feel for those poor friends of yours visiting and issuing invitations to their child’s wedding – how much junk food would they be forced to consume in a single day of making these rounds? Or maybe this has happened to you? Healthier serving options are fruits, dry fruits and nuts, hurigadle (recipe coming soon) and so on (be creative). Would people anticipating the junk and instead being served these healthy snacks be scornful? Maybe, but you could always explain and educate!

     Coming to what happens when one person in a social group starts on the path to health - there is a significant ripple effect. When your friends see you start to make healthy food and activity choices, they may initially even make fun of you. This is just because people don’t like change and they’re probably worried that what they were doing all this time was wrong (and feel guilty that they aren’t taking care of their own health). This ribbing will continue only until you stand up for yourself and your health.

     You can take it all in a positive spirit, retain your good humour and EDUCATE them. Eventually, when they realise that you are committed to your health goals (and see the results you are producing), they’ll come around and start their own journey to lasting health. If some are still closed to the idea, maybe even skip the time with them that they want to spend eating unhealthily or lounging around. That way you don’t lose out on your friendship plus you get to enjoy the benefits of enhanced well being. You may even find yourself making new friends, those who are on the same path.

Imagine what that would be like – your friends are then truly there for the long haul and so are you!
Wish you all the best in making HEALTH contagious.....

This article was published in 'Life in Adyar', Chennai -  August 4th, 2012.

I'm posting this a little late but wish all my family and friends a very happy friendship day nonetheless - I'm here for you guys  :)

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