I’ve always wondered why weight-loss reality shows give me the urge to rip open a bag of salt and vinegar chips. Well, now I know that it’s not just some twisted part of my brain that takes slight pleasure in seeing other people’s weight-loss struggles you know, that “haha you can’t eat the chips, but I can” mentality. No, I’m not an evil person… according to a University of Colorado at Boulder study described in a recent TIME article, researchers have found that people actually eat more after seeing overweight people.
It’s called the “contagion effect,” and it’s ultimately caused by something called “stereotype activation,” which posits that our social perception of people is based on stereotypes (good and bad), and when we’re exposed to certain groups of people, we will likely act in a way that’s consistent with that stereotype. So, when I see overweight people, my subconscious tells me to eat because overeating is a stereotype of this particular group.
Many other studies have found results that are in line with the contagion effect, indicating that “having fat friends makes being fat seem more acceptable.” But this study takes it a step further, saying that the overweight individuals do not have to be your close friends in order to have an effect on your eating. They can be strangers on the street or people on television either way, all it takes is a glance to trigger stereotype activation.
Here’s my takeaway: losing weight is a struggle for the majority of the population, so it’s not about the size of the people you choose to surround yourself with, it’s about their mentality. Don’t think so much about having fat friends. Rather, make sure they are motivational and positive enough to want to see you succeed in your weight-loss goals.
If your overweight friends wants you to join in their misery and unhealthy behaviors, then they can’t be very good friends to begin with, can they?