Is Weight Loss Contagious?

I learned that obesity loves company. When I was overweight and weighed 300 pounds, I honestly felt most comfortable around other people who were also weight challenged. I knew they were not judging me, and they were great company when I really wanted to just “pig out” at a restaurant without worrying what people would think of me. After all, they too needed to lose a pound or two.

It turns out that it was not just my personal perception that obesity loves company. Many studies have shown that people who are overweight tend to eat more when other people also eat more, and they also tend to gravitate toward other overweight people.

The good news is that a recent study by The Miriam Hospital’s Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University found that weight loss success breeds weight loss success among team members who were trying to lose weight as part of a team weight loss competition. It’s like The Biggest Loser in a medical setting. The participants who lost the most weight tended to be part of the team that lose the most significant amount of weight.

Success is contagious.

Reading this study made me think about how important it is to not only determine for yourself that you will lose weight for your own health, but it can also be very important to your journey to be part of a larger community.

I have to admit that I’m a bit of an anomaly in this, although there may be some of you that are like me. I found I did better when I did not participate in a weight loss group. Perhaps that’s because of my more naturally introverted tendencies and my own tendency to “follow the crowd” in eating.

However, when I teach my weight loss classes, I notice that the participants who lose the most weight or feel the most enthusiastic about their weight loss prospects are those who are the most engaged in the group. Those that quit, and there are always some, are those who are not as engaged, and not really ready to lose weight.

The abundance of online weight loss support systems makes it so easy to search and find a group that you relate to. And of course, the blogging community provides instant support through your own personal blogs, twitter, and Facebook.

What has your experience been? Is weight loss contagious? Diane

Image: David Castillo Dominici /

30 thoughts on “Is Weight Loss Contagious?

  1. me says:

    I do not have many overweight friends, so I guess that is a good thing! I have been part of one weight loss check-in that’s been around for a loooong time, but we never seem to all be on fire at the same time. So I guess weight loss had not been contagious for us?

  2. John says:

    I’m certain that both weight loss and weight gain are contagious, there have been studies done about this (comparing friends with relatives etc) and other studies about giving up smoking. Anyway, it makes sense that if you’re with a group that is losing, then you are more likely to lose too. Just like if you’re in a group of people studying differential calculus and everyone is failing tests, there is less motivation to pass.

    I don’t have many friends and no nearby relatives so losing weight has been a bit of an isolated activity for me, like anything there are both advantages and disadvantages of that.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Since restarting my journey last April, my husband (who was only a little overweight) decided to join me. He’s lost over 20# and is now a regular exerciser. I did not ask him to join me. He’s just a great, supportive guy! I think it makes a huge difference, being on a weight loss journey with someone else, be it a group or just another family member.

  4. Jody - Fit at 54 says:

    I definitely think weight gain is – people who love to eat tend to stick together. As for weight loss – I think some people seek out groups to help them & so yes, in that regard. BUT for every day, well, my experience has been not really. I was surrounded by people that did not follow my lead. They have to want to do it themselves & I could not do it for them.

  5. Marie@feedingfive says:

    I am more like you. I am very self motivated and just do my own thing. If anything I always feel a little embarrassed because people always look at what I am eating because they think I eat so over the top healthy.

  6. Dr. J says:

    Not too different from smokers!

    The people we surround ourselves with have a serious affect on the lives we will lead. As is said, choose wisely!

  7. Karen@WaistingTime says:

    YES!! One of my most successful times losing (in my many yo-yo years) was when I did Weight Watchers with a friend. It was not because of WW, but because of the friend. We shared recipes, encouraged each other, and worked out together. We started as strangers, actually, who saw each other at the same gym and recognized each other from having kids in the same school. We became true friends. Sadly, she moved away years ago:( Yes, I gained weight.

  8. BJ says:

    I work in a small office, just three of us, and when two of us were working hard to take off some extra weight we didn’t realize the affect we had on our coworker. Then one day she commented that she had lost 5 pounds because we were dieting. She said it was because we weren’t ordering in anymore. We were all thinking about what we were eating and bringing well planned lunches to work. Now if we can just encourage each other to get up from the desk and include exercise in our daily routine!!!

  9. Meg (@LadyMegSoprano) says:

    I lost the big bulk of my weight (about 60 pounds) in a more isolated setting. I did, however, have the support and back-up of my personal trainers. I was living by myself and making all food-buying choices for my home.

    I gained about 15 back, started working with my fourth (and current) trainer, and have lost another 20+ pounds (for a total of over 70 pounds) and this time, it’s while living with my parents, who are both on Weight Watchers. DEFINITELY easier to live with people who are also working to eat healthily, as it keeps the snacks and crap out of the house. I used to visit before I moved back home and have a hard time avoiding the less-than-good-for-me stuff.

  10. Lisa says:

    When I was losing my 100 pounds a lot of my friends joined me in trying to lose weight. Some of them were successful and that made me really happy!

  11. Siobhan says:

    I’m also an introvert, so group weight loss things are not for me. I like to march to my own drummer, do my own thing at my own speed.
    I definitely understand that I’m probably in the minority. I see a lot more people successful in groups or with a buddy than doing it on their own. It’s just not my thing.

  12. kwithme says:

    I have participated in some weight loss groups and they did not work for me. Maybe I was too young or insecure but I felt pressured to “do it their way”. Even if I needed something else. My first 30 lbs, my husband and I lost together. My second major loss, after having children, I did on my own. Although, it was somewhat contagious because some friends had lost weight over summer break and I felt more alone in my heaviness. I felt like if they could, so could I. My husband has lost weight this time too, but predominately because we don’t go out to eat as much and he eats what I cook.

    My mom wishes it were contagious as she eats better when she is with me. But she has not found what she needs to do it on her own. She has been battling the same 20 lbs for 4 years.

  13. Taryl says:

    Though I do participate in online support groups and the blogging community, I wouldn’t say it makes a big difference to my success – that’s all internal. However I do like the accountability of publishing where I’m at and knowing people see it. Still, that’s more of a result of my weight loss than a causal factor. No amount of shame makes me lose 😉

  14. Taryl says:

    You know, though, now that I think about it I AM doing the protocol with my mom and we encourage one another and share tips and such. I do very much enjoy that and it is nice to know someone else has been there and is succeeding. So maybe it is contagious and I’m not immune. The more I think about it the more the support of family, in particular, helps immensely.

  15. Roz@weightingfor50 says:

    I can only speak for what works for me, but support and company is important in EVERYTHING for me. Good and bad. I do know I feed off of the energy (no pun intended with the feed off of) of my group at weight watchers, and having a workout buddy also helps. And finding like minded bloggers and getting their input and support is great too. Have a wonderful Monday Dianne.

  16. Tish says:

    I say yes, success breeds success. When I see my friends losing successfully and becoming more fit and healthy, that makes me want to follow their example. It also helps me that my husband is very supportive and willing to work hard on the 5 or 10 pounds he wants to lose and keep off while I work toward my own goals. I am a WW and find that getting to know others in the group, especially those who are working at the program, is helpful. We share meal ideas, recipes, and inspiration.

  17. Amanda says:

    I think it can be, but not in our house/ family! At the moment I’m the lone soldier plodding on in maintenance. I keep hoping though!

  18. La. says:

    Both yes and no. I’ve been an “accountability weightloss partner” before and whenever I did good…she wasn’t. It was like my losing weight solidified that SHE never could. I DO think that being thinner around my bigger friends has caused stress in the relationship. IE: I’ll be your token fat friend. Those types of comments aren’t helpful to anyone!

  19. cookie says:

    I guess my father should be losing weight too – it not only would be better for his back, he has some other weight related health issues too. I just think it won’t happen. Two years ago when I lost 15 kg (I don’t know exactly how that happened), it did not inspire him. But we’re ot even living in the same city, maybe it would be different then. Gosh, I am so angry at myself for putting all that weight (and more) back on.

  20. julie says:

    None of my friends are even slightly overweight, though of course, they all think they are. Just the same, it’s nice to have friends who don’t comment about what I’m eating for lunch, or insist on pizza or burgers for every meal out. The BF, especially, who doesn’t really care for my hippie veggie food, is at least willing to split a meal with me, so I don’t overeat it, or have to eat it 2x.

  21. LovesCatsinCA says:

    Most of my friends are within 10 pounds of ideal…

    I think support groups, whether they’re online email groups or blogs like this or teleclasses are excellent support. I’m also an introvert so the idea of face to face groups doesn’t appeal to me. Also, I’ve never really liked eating out with other people other than family. I’ll go out for coffee with people but don’t like to go to lunch etc. But then it helps that I have friends who for a variety of health and spiritual reasons, have interesting eating or non-eating habits–but coffee or tea at Starbucks seems to suit everyone–even my friends who are vegan or breatharian. And then I don’t inhale a bunch of fatty food while focusing on other people… I just enjoy the company.

  22. Cheziannhe says:

    This is very inspirational and I think it can help motivate and inspire people to lose weight and start a healthy living…

  23. Holly says:

    I’m with you. I tend to do better on my own in some ways b/c I’m naturally introverted but I do better in other ways b/c some part of me needs support. It really depends on ‘who’ is giving the support. There are some people who despite their good intentions do not really support you either b/c of their own insecurities or perhaps their skewed perception of what is helping. Then there are others who really and truly support you in all their words and actions. And those people are very instrumental to success! I tried a weight loss support group but found most of the people there were not succeeding and mostly wanting to commiserate with one another about how they can’t do it. Or make excuses why what they’re doing that’s negatively affecting them is beyond their control. And that’s not what I need because I do a good enough job of making my own excuses!! lol….So I have found that my online support group like your blog and many others has been a good replacement for that.

  24. Becca says:

    I definitely think the people around you influence you greatly! Finding someone to eat healthily with or exercise with can help a ton!

  25. Felicia Sanders says:

    I agree that weight loss is kind of contagious. Since when have you started the your weight oss sessions? I hope you’ll be successful with it. Congrats in advance.


  26. Samantha says:

    For me the easiest way to lose the fat is to focus on my exercise performance and find a hobby I enjoy. I start exercising regularly and keep a log of my progress. Every time I exercise I try to do better than the last time.

  27. Minard says:

    Losing weight is really very inspiring especially when you tell it to others and enumerate the benefits, they will think and make a move too…

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