Let’s get together: the benefits of building healthy habits with friends and family

June 29, 2021

It’s a feeling you’re probably familiar with. A few months into a new, healthy lifestyle change and motivation is waning or perhaps gone altogether.   

Whether you’re looking to improve your gut health, lose weight or move your body more regularly—making and sustaining healthy habits is hard! One reason for this might be because we often do it alone. 

For example, research suggests that people who embark on a weight loss program with a weight loss support group are more likely to maintain their weight loss after the program ends, compared to those who embark on the program alone. 

So, while we each have a different goal and drive for making change, is going it alone the best way? Here’s why it’s better to buddy up on your health journey.

Why it’s better to make healthy changes together

  • Our health behaviors tend to mirror those with who we spend the most time and reflect the social norms of the group, so making positive changes with friends and family means you’re all more likely to get the benefit
  • Being accountable to others is an important tool that can help you make or break new health habits
  • Encouragement to keep going and focus on your goals when you’re having a bad day
  • Celebrating wins with family and friends (no matter how small) reinforces your achievements and keeps motivation high
  • It’s more fun! Sharing activities like cooking or exercise with friends or family means you’re more likely to stick to healthy habits

Our health behaviors mirror those around us

The relationships we have with our friends and family can impact our health, for better and for worse. Whether it’s our partners, parents, or siblings, different kinds of relationships affect how well we’re able to sustain healthy lifestyle habits

For example, someone is more likely to become obese if someone in their circle is too. 57% more likely if it’s a friend, 40% if it’s a sibling, and 37% if it’s their partner.

The effects of social ties on our health start when we’re children. How much a child spends exercising or in front of a screen is influenced by their friends and siblings. 

We also know that our drinking habits as young adults are influenced by family and friendship groups.

The power of group thinking

Social norms are created within families and groups of friends. And because these are the people we spend the most time with, these norms influence our health habits

This can be described by the Social-Ecological Model of behavior, which describes the influence of personal relationships, community, and society as a whole as key factors predicting health and lifestyle choices. 

If people in your social circle care about healthy food choices, for example, then it’s more likely that nutritious meals will be on the menu when you get together. 

How we talk about lifestyle changes can also affect our decisions. Researchers have found that talking about an anti-smoking campaign with friends can reduce people’s cigarette intake

Chatting with people making similar lifestyle changes allows us to share information and work out what’s most important to us and act on it. And this can happen in person or through other channels. 

For example, finding an online weight loss support group is another way to get informational and emotional support from other people with similar goals, even if they aren’t in your direct social circle. 

Relationships and friendships give us a sense of responsibility. This might make us want to choose healthy behaviors so we can enjoy time with those we love, as well as encouraging better health in the people we’re closest to.

Accountability: the benefits of buddying up

If you’re looking to take back control of your health or weight, teaming up with a buddy can make the world of difference between sticking to the plan or sliding off the wagon. Committing to sharing your journey with someone else provides accountability.

People who have a successful weight-loss buddy lose significantly more weight than those who choose to go it alone. We also know that it’s easier to stop smoking when your partner quits with you. And research shows that pairing up is just as effective whether your buddy is your romantic partner or not

The positive effects don’t stop with you and your buddy. Because our health behaviors mirror those who we are around the most, our successes can influence the health of our other relationships and social circles. Even happiness has been shown to spread through social networks. 

Consider where you might find accountability and social support in your local community:

  • Do you have a friend to workout with or share new healthy recipes with? 
  • Is there a local weight loss support group you could slot into? 
  • Could you commit to trying a new, healthy recipe each week with a co-worker or group of friends?
  • Could you and your partner share childcare responsibilities so you can exercise more regularly?

Find your tribe online

Being surrounded by others like you that engage in positive health behaviors shouldn’t be limited to those you’re in contact with each day. 

Social media is a powerful tool that can be used to support positive health behaviors. Whether it’s a group weight loss forum, seeing pictures of your friends regularly working out online, or a challenge to eat a diversity of new plants each week, social media communities can promote healthy behaviors successfully by leveraging the social components of behavior effectively. 

Finding an encouraging online weight loss support group can offer you a shoulder to lean on when you’re feeling discouraged or unmotivated. Online support groups can help keep you accountable with daily prompts, social media posts, learnings, and meal ideas to keep you inspired as you work toward your health goals.

Some great communities to explore include:

Whatever your support looks like, finding your tribe and being accountable to others is an important tool that can help you make or break new health habits. You don’t have to do it alone!

Getting you through the good times and the tough stuff

Having supportive friends and family not only leads to more successful lifestyle changes but also improved self-awareness, motivation, and self-belief in being able to achieve your goals. 

If you’re all making changes together then you can all be each others’ cheerleaders, celebrating successes every step of the way, no matter how small. And you can help each other get through the tough times, reminding you of your goals and encouraging you to keep going.

Importantly, it’s more fun! 

Sharing activities like cooking and eating nutritious meals together, getting out for a walk, playing sports, or just having an impromptu dance party makes sticking to healthy habits easier and more enjoyable.

Don’t start your ZOE journey alone

If you’re looking to join ZOE, one of the best ways to get started is to find others who can support you along the way. 

Not only will your experiences with the ZOE program be connected right from the start, but you’ll also feel the benefits of making healthier lifestyle changes with the support of others!

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