Can you catch obesity? (Transcript)

I remember the first time I saw a friend wearing skinny jeans. To be honest I thought they were ridiculous. And yet within a few years I had caught the skinny jeans virus. Many of us catch fashion trends but it is it possible to catch obesity or drug addiction.

The Framingham Heart Study has tracked 12000 people for over 30 years. Scientists, Christakis and Fowler found something bizarre. When a close friend became obese, a person’s own risk of obesity increased by 171% They’ve since found that drug use, sleep deprivation, overspending and even depression are equally contagious. Fortunately so are good habits. When one person gives up smoking or starts an exercise program it increases the chances that those close to them will too.

We think of ourselves as self-contained, autonomous beings but we are way more connected then we realize. That’s because the brain is like a virtual reality machine. Right now you’re not just watching me walk from one end of the screen to the other. There is a part of your brain your mirror neuron network simulating the action as if it’s you here doing the walking — although you won’t actually get a workout this way so don’t go to the gym for an hours observation. But there could be some subtle stimulation in your legs. When smokers watch a film character smoke, the brain regions that activate hand movements light up as if they too are preparing to smoke. The mirror neurons prompt us to model what we see. Ever wondered why happy people make you happy and negative people bring you down? We mirror emotions too.

So, you’ve got an easy solution for your bad habits — find a role model to blame! That’s a bit like allowing yourself to burn to death because you discovered someone else started the fire. Here’s how to protect yourself against a bad habit virus:

1) Are there any negative behaviors that you may be role modeling?
2) Choose to only model positive behaviour.
3) Be with who you want to be. Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to adopt. You have more than double the chance of sustaining a weight loss goal if you have the support and role model of a good goal buddy.
Vincent Van Gogh said: “don’t be a slave to your model.” Nothing wrong about being a slave to skinny jeans but when it comes to the rest of your life make sure you’re the master.

Justin Cohen

Justin Cohen is a professional speaker and author of four books & seven audiobooks. As a leading authority on human potential, with a postgraduate degree in Psychology, Justin Cohen speaks and trains internationally in the fields of motivation, sales, service and leadership. He has presented in nearly twenty countries, and in virtually every industry to an average of 10 000 people annually. Justin is a Certified Speaking Professional and a Southern African Speaker Hall of Fame inductee.