Who you spend time with is who you become. — Tony Robbins
I hope that I did not offend you with the title of this article. Loyalty and friendship are two of the most important things in life to me, and I am not a person to ditch friends left, right and centre.
What is just as important to me, though, is that the friendships that I keep are good for me. “Good” can mean a nice feeling that I have when ending a phone conversation. But what I have come to learn, is that “good” friendships can also be measured by my weight.
Did you know that research indicates that your friends being obese doubles your risk of becoming obese yourself?
It might seem bizarre — surely, weight gain is not contagious. But come to think about it, it makes perfect sense to me. Humans are social creatures after all, and we adapt to our environments.
Just have a look at history and all of the crazy behaviour which has spread like fire after being normalised by a few initiators. As the saying goes: It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
I have fallen into this trap myself, and I am happy to report that I at least managed to not sink a ship under my weight. A few years back, I was travelling the world working as a stewardess on luxury yachts. These yachts were like small, secluded “societies” of their own.
We could spend a couple of weeks at sea during an Atlantic crossing, with no communication with the outside world. Or we could have royalties or TV-stars aboard and no time to think of anything other than their next whim.
The crew consisted of 10–15 people from all over the world, all with different background and personalities. I remember joining yachts and thinking that we could not be more apart.
What did I, a Swedish woman in my twenties, have in common with a male Engineer from South Africa? But it was interesting to see how quickly the behaviour of the crew converged: especially our health habits.
Growing up in Sweden, the word “lagom” (basically translated as “moderate”) was a cornerstone in life. Aboard luxury yachts, however, abundance was rife and quickly became my new norm.
The princess did not want to touch any of the twenty pastries that the chef had baked for her breakfast? Not to worry, I could gladly gulp them down in the pantry. The crew had a night off after a rough week at sea? Of course, we would have a feast to end all feasts — we deserved it!
I remember new crew members joining the yachts with high ambitions of daily ocean swims or jogs in port. It typically did not last many days until they joined the rest of us, indulging in ice cream marathons in the Crew’s Mess…
I now know how contagious environments are and that I easily pick up on other people’s behaviour. But that does not mean that I have to seclude myself — quite the opposite!
Instead, I am now seeking out groups who share my health priorities. I then use the positive reinforcement of the group to commit to my healthy habits.
Last year I discovered the Wim Hof Method and with it, a community of people who was exactly what I needed. The Wim Hof Method is a combination of breathing, cold exposure and mindset. The founder, Wim Hof, has achieved incredible feats such as being submerged in ice for almost two hours. Cold exposure has proven to have incredible health benefits, among them weight loss.
My training involved visiting Wim Hof at his centres in Holland and Poland, where I dived deeper into the practice. Once more, I was part of a diverse group of individuals from all corners of the world. Again, I quickly found myself soaking up the attitude and behaviour of others.
Only that this time, it was a far cry from the decadent ways of my crew mates aboard the luxury yachts. Now, the spirit was all about positivity and resilience!
What is remarkable about the Wim Hof Method group’s attitude, is what we endured during our time together. Jumping into freezing rivers for unknown periods of time and climbing snowy mountains in shorts was part of the daily agenda.
Nothing fazed my peers. It was literally all about taking the plunge without complaining, no matter how uncomfortable the situation was.
I must be honest and say that I rather lie on a sun deck on a yacht than climb mountains in -15 degrees C with little but a cap on my head. But I could not be the only person complaining, so I got on with it.
When the week was over, I felt great. Peer pressure had shown me that I could be a tougher, healthier and more positive person!
What about your circle of influence: is it helping you create the life that you want, or do you need to change something?
To consider about your circle of influence:
1. Do they support you? When you announce that you have started a new diet, do your friends respect your decision or offer cake to celebrate?
2. Do their actions rub off on you? Does your friends’ TV-watching all weekend make you feel that it is ok also for you to skip the gym?
3. How do you feel after spending time together? Do you feel uplifted by your friends’ positive spirit, or do you feel like comfort-eating a pizza to recover from their negativity?
Where to find a positive circle of influence:
1. Exercise group. Share endorphins with people who prioritise fitness, in for instance a boot camp or running group.
2. Stand up comedy. The perfect place for people who love to laugh. (As long as you don’t get heckled.)
3. The Wim Hof Method community. If you are scared of the cold, this will put the power of influence to the test!
Be kind to everyone, but be careful of who you allow into your circle of influence. I can not stand another peer-approved croissant, royal or not.
This article was originally published at The Benefactory, where Alexia Bjarkan is a weight loss coach.