Media Appearances: Print: Jeyme Colodne over at Best Self Atlanta Magazine included "Social Network Diet" in the magazine's "100 Fabulous Finds" piece.
The magazine provides information that helps readers live their best lives by focusing on health, beauty and life enrichment, with an emphasis on wellness, fitness, weight loss and nutrition.
Top 100 Fabulous Finds
Best Self Atlanta Magazine
Revive Your New Year's Resolutions Seek support. It s tough to make lasting change on your own, so surround yourself with people who encourage your efforts. A study of people who completed a weight loss program found that 66 percent of those who teamed up with friends had kept the weight off six months later; the figure fell to 24 percent for those who went it alone.-Parade Magazine - 2/19/12
"The more you move around, the greater the health benefits," which include a lower blood pressure, easier weight control, and less stress, says Miriam Nelson, PhD, director of the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity Prevention, and associate professor of nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Nelson is also co-author of The Social Network Diet, Change Yourself, Change the World. Working out at a moderate pace for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week, as prescribed in the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PAG) that Nelson helped to create, may not offer enough protection against obesity and other chronic illness.-- 2/20/12 ¬ USA Today Warning: Sitting is hazardous to your health For decades we've been told that our creeping overweight and lack of physical activity is our fault -- that we lack self-discipline, that we're lazy, that we're self-indulgent. With such an accusatory finger pointed at us, it's no wonder we despair. But is our overweight and unhealthy lifestyle really our own fault? Do we simply lack willpower? Are we just lazy overeaters?
As a researcher in this field, my answer is, "I don't think so." I believe that our physical and social environment is the key to a healthy body weight. In my 10th and newest book, The Social Network Diet: Change Yourself, Change the World, I outline this concept.Take Martha. At the age of 51, Martha's weight had ballooned to a high of 210 pounds. She was living in Atlanta at the time, a city with serious obstacles to healthy living -- among them, roads made for driving, not walking, and a tradition of heavy southern cooking. Many of Martha's Atlanta friends were also overweight. "I had pretty much given up on exercising," she told me. Then, in 2009, Martha moved to Denver. There she found an environment more conducive to physical activity and good nutrition, as well as a network of friends with an active, healthy lifestyle. A little over a year later, she had lost 53 pounds, was walking regularly with her new friends, joining a neighbor for spinning classes at the local recreation center, and eating better than she ever had.As Martha's story suggests, our food intake and physical activity are not matters of simple willpower. New research backs this up. Study after study suggests that the crisis we're facing as individuals and as a nation is only minimally caused by our own poor choices -- it is primarily a reflection of our surroundings, both our social and our physical environments.In other words, it's not you; it's the company you keep and your surroundings.-- 2/21/12 Huffington Post A Little Help From YourFriends
6 Tips to Lose Weight for Life From 'The Social Network Diet'
Don't diet alone! Instead, slim down with support from your social network and these tips from the new book 'The Social Network Diet.'
By Annie Hauser, Senior Editor
"Being fat isn't your fault; staying fat is." That’s the famous mantra of celebrity trainer Jackie Warner, and it’s a great way to explain the message behind the new book,The Social Network Diet. And though Warner’s tough-love approach is not exactly the tone The Social Network Diet authors Miriam Nelson, PhD, and Jennifer Ackerman take, the message is basically the same. The reason why so many people are overweight, the authors say, is not because they’re lazy or unmotivated, but because their environments —social, familial, economic — make them fat and keep them that way.
If your spouse has ever bought you ice cream to “reward” you after a week of hard workouts, if your friends and family have ever pressured you to eat or drink more, or if your job or commute is just too time-consuming to allow time for fitness, The Social Network Diet is for you. Throughout the tome, Nelson brings her expert, evidence-based counsel on how to create — and stick to— a weight-loss lifestyle.
“We feel strongly that it’s hard for women to keep weight off once they’ve lost it,” Nelson explains. “And the reason is simple: Once you’ve lost the weight, if you return to the identical social and physical environment, it will come back. Our message is all about how to change that environment to not only help women stick to their diets, but also to inspire changes in others.”
If you’re ready to make a real difference in your life, read on for a few of Nelson’s top tips for long-term weight loss.
Next, analyze the support you get from your friends, spouse, and job. Is healthy eating important to your spouse? What about fitness? Do you have access to fitness facilities near work? Once you understand the limitations of your lifestyle, you’ll be ready to make some changes for the better.
At home, it’s essential to create an active home environment. If you have the space, store workout equipment in front of your TV, so you’ll be more likely to fit in a few exercises while you watch your favorite shows. If you live with other people, work to develop a few healthy dinner staples you all like that you can whip up at any time.
The Social Network Diet: Change Yourself, Change the World, is a new book by New York Times Best-Selling authors Dr. Miriam Nelson and Jennifer Ackerman. In the book, they highlight the different ways you can change your diet and exercise patterns by changing your social networks, or the people and environments with whom you surround yourself.
Author Miriam Nelson points out at the beginning of the book that when most people think Social Network they think of Internet social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace or even LinkedIn, but these are not the kinds of social networks of which she speaks. She clarifies that in her book, social network means the people who surround is in our everyday lives and the environment that either works toward or against your will to exercise.
Throughout the book, the authors tell stories of various people they’ve included in their scientific studies to show real-life examples of how a person’s environment affects his or her ability to be healthy. Martha Peterson is one of the first examples given. She is written about in the introduction. At her heaviest, she was 210 pounds. At the time, she was 51 and living in Atlanta, GA. She said that not only were her other Southern friends heavier, making her feel like she had some wiggle room in her diet, but the city itself had obstacles to healthy living. First and foremost the roads, which were made primarily for driving, and were not friendly to bikers or walkers.
In 2009, Martha moved to Denver, CO. In Denver, she found a city designed with a healthier lifestyle in mind and friends who lived a healthier lifestyle, exercising regularly and eating healthfully.
One of the tools Nelson has used throughout her speaking engagements over the years is a series of maps, showing how the nation has grown fatter and fatter over the last few decades. She said people are always shocked to see the maps from several decades ago show blue – the sign for low obesity –and then transform to dark red or bright orange – the sign for high rates of obesity – in the early part of the millennium and on to now.
After one of her last speaking engagements, Nelson said her husband asked her what she was trying to accomplish. Was she having a positive effect on anyone? Thus, the impetus for the book.
One of the first tools the authors give to those attempting to change their lifestyle is the 7-day jumpstart, which involves focusing totally on eating healthy and incorporating exercise.
During the first day, the authors say to focus on what you eat. Eat only whole vegetables, whole fruits, whole grains and protein-rich foods, and eat at least three servings of each. Eat as many as you want. There is no limit. And for the entirety of the week, avoid added sugars and refined grains.
The authors add that if you put the sugar bowl back on the table and add your own sugar to unsweetened foods and drinks, you’ll never add as much as the food manufacturers add themselves.
More eating tips from the authors include eating foods from the earth, eating for fuel instead of eating for fun and making time for meals. If meals are rushed, you will go for the quickest thing possible, which is never the healthiest.
As far as physical activity, the authors set out guidelines that let you start small and work toward a bigger goal. Tips include walking or biking instead of driving whenever possible, breaking a sweat at least three times a week, find active fun, so that all of your exercise is not regimented or boring. In addition, they say, create your own personal activity philosophy. Figure out what times are the best for you to be active and find activities that are fun for you and that you can participate in with your friends and family.
A big part of the Social Network Diet is changing your surroundings. The authors say to start in your kitchen. Remove the bad food from your kitchen and don’t bring any bad food back in. Instead, bring back whole grains, whole fruits and whole vegetables. Identify which shops in your area sell the healthiest foods and begin shopping there. When you are at the supermarket, limit your shopping to the outside aisles, with the fresher food, and stay away from the middle aisles with added sugar and preservatives. In your home, put healthy foods in sight. Instead of putting a plate of cookies out on the table, put cut-up fresh fruit in the front of the refrigerator. When you prepare a meal at home, make smaller portions and serve them out for your family.
The biggest change you can make for your family in regard to food, say the authors, is to have everyone sit down for a family meal at night as many times a week as possible. Multiple studies the authors site show that families who eat meals together continue to have better eating habits throughout their lives.
When thinking about changing your environment in regard to your physical activity, the book says to start in the home, just like with your eating habits. Manage the screen time of your entire family. Many studies show that family members will be more active if the television and video game time is limited within the home. If your children don’t have a TV to sit in front of, they will seek something out to do, and most of the time, that will be some sort of physical activity. The same goes for you. In addition to changing inside the home, you can locate all the parks and recreation centers outside your home to find opportunities to be active either by yourself or with your family. There are many places within communities that offer playground equipment, tracks or even small workout stations at local parks where you can get exercise for free. Organize a basketball game with your husband and kids or get a group of women together to walk a few evenings a week.
Overall, The Social Network Diet is about eliminating the bad, the harmful in your life and bringing in the good, or helpful. And much of this relies on you surrounding yourself with people who are like-minded. If your best friend is prone to eating unhealthy foods frequently, you’re probably going to do it, too. The authors don’t recommend getting rid of your friends but rather shifting your focus in your life to include time for eating well and staying active.
Review Meredith Canales
The Social Network Diet: Fad or fabulous?
Jan 26, 2012
Change lives with The Social Network Diet
Tired of fad diets and treadmill boredom? New York Times best-selling authors Dr. Miriam Nelson and Jennifer Ackerman have written a diet and exercise manual, based on new research, with no personal trainer or dumbbell routine required.
The Social Network Diet (FastPencil Premiere, September 2011) isn't another fad diet book, but rather a practical guide on making lasting, positive changes by creating a supportive social network and a favorable food and physical activity environment.
Are there parks or trails near your workplace for a lunch-break walk? Keep a pair of walking shoes at work and head out with a co-worker to get some fresh-air exercise and power up your productivity for the afternoon. Do you rely on caffeine and a vending machine raid to get you through the day? Re-evaluate your food choices and try non-processed, nutritious meals and snacks to meet your body's fuel requirements and boost your mood.
Fight obesity with practical changes
Dr. Miriam Nelson is on a mission to inspire women and fight obesity head-on with her book The Social Network Diet. "More than 67 percent of U.S. residents are either overweight or obese, and with that our nation is facing a problem of epidemic proportions, diminishing the quality of life for all. This is an urgent issue that requires a creative, collective approach," says Nelson, the director of the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity Prevention and a professor of nutrition a the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. She is also the founder of the StrongWomen Initiative, a community nutrition and physical activity program available in 40 states that is designed for women.
The ripple effect: How individual choices affect change
The aim of this socially-focused diet is "to produce a ripple effect where the idea starts with an individual and is passed along from person to person until we create an environment that promotes health for all." It challenges the reader to take a hard look at her choices, her social network of friends, family, colleagues and online connections, her community and society — all factors that influence physical activity and nutrition. It's not just our 198 genes that are related to body weight — our social networks and environment play a major role, too. If your friends, for example, get together for a calorie-heavy dinner and drinks, try organizing a group hike or cross-country ski afternoon instead. Join a new group to expand your social network and have a ripple effect, Nelson points out. "Church activities, group sports and recreation, or neighborhood functions can foster good feelings about yourself and your community and encourage healthy activity. This, in turn, makes you and your neighbors feel more attached to your neighborhood."
Everyday decisions can make you a Game Changer
Nelson looks at how our everyday actions can influence our environment, such as buying 100 percent whole-grain breads and not buying soda. As consumers, we can drive product development. If we shop at businesses that sell the best produce and other healthy foods, such as local grocery stores and farmers' markets, these sellers will prosper. Need inspiration? In the book, the "Game Changers" chapter highlights women who have spearheaded community programs, including turning lawns, driveways and empty lots into produce gardens, adding bike lanes to roadways and establishing organized play activities, like kickball, for kids at recess. "All of the women we interviewed saw a need in their surroundings and were compelled to do something about it," says Nelson. "They were not willing to let the status quo stand." And neither should you.
How I Lost 123 Pounds With the Social Network Diet
By Jennifer Ackerman,
Find out how one woman's friends, family and social circle helped her lose weight and transform her life.
The photo shows a beaming woman, lean, muscular and triumphant, with a medal around her neck, surrounded by a cheering squad of exuberant family and friends. Deanne Hobba has just completed the Chicago Marathon. There at the finish line are her mom, her two sisters, three cousins, an aunt and her best friend—“my support group,” says Hobba. “What more could you ask for?”
The end of this race is the capstone of a far longer, more arduous journey for Hobba. A journey that took her from poor eating, ill health and obesity to glowing fitness and well-being. A journey that reflects what it takes to transform one’s life, to lose weight or just adopt healthier habits.
In the past decade, Hobba, age 44, has completed three marathons, seven triathlons and more than fifty 5K-, 10K- and 10-mile races. At 5'4", she weighs 145 pounds and wears a size 8. She runs, bikes and swims three times a week and strength-trains twice a week.
But it wasn’t long ago that Hobba could barely dislodge herself from an amusement-park ride. At age 33, she weighed 268 pounds and suffered from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and frequent migraine headaches. “I had tried to lose weight with various diets, but nothing stuck,” she recalls. “I had horrible eating habits. Whatever was put in front of me, I ate—huge portions at meals and whole boxes of cookies. Food was my crutch. It was my cure for boredom. It was what I did with friends: we went out and ordered a lot of unhealthy food. Food was my emotional support. If I had a bad day, I’d go home and eat a pizza.”
That year, two things occurred that changed Hobba’s life forever. “It was summer , and I’d taken my nephew to an amusement park,” she says. “When we sat down on one ride, the safety bar kept springing back up again and again. Finally, the guy manning the ride whispered in my ear, ‘I’m sorry, ma’am, you’ll have to get off—we can’t close the bar over you.’”
Hobba was mortified. “I knew I was heavy, but this was devastating. I had to do something. Still, I kept putting it off.” That winter, while working as an X-ray technologist at Union Hospital in Lynn, Massachusetts, she encountered a string of patients who were morbidly obese. “It took five or six people to move them to the table,” she recalls. “It was clear they couldn’t take care of themselves.
I thought, if I don’t change, in 10 years or so this could be me.”
Hobba knew she had to revolutionize her life. She joined Weight Watchers with her sister and her roommate. This helped her restructure both her eating and her social environment. “Having two people on board with me really helped,” she says. Sharing her meals with her roommate was especially valuable: the two agreed to buy only fruits, vegetables and lean meats, and to avoid cookies and crackers and other packaged foods with added sugars and fats; if these temptations weren’t in the house, they wouldn’t eat them. Hobba measured out portions ahead of time so she wouldn’t go back for seconds. “As soon as I was done eating dinner, I’d decide what I was going to eat the next night and pull it out of the freezer so it was ready to cook,” she says. “That way, when I came home from work tired and hungry, I wouldn’t just call for takeout.”
After the first week of the program, Hobba had lost four pounds. “That small success really fueled my efforts,” she says. “I realized I didn’t have to starve myself to lose weight. I could do this.” She began to eat small, healthy snacks, such as fruit, every couple of hours so that she never felt famished. When she was tempted by food outside her planned meals and snacks—the doughnuts or bagels someone brought to the hospital, for instance—she learned to ask herself, “Are you really hungry?” More often than not, the answer was “no.” She started taking her lunch to work and stopped bringing money so she couldn’t buy a cheeseburger from the cafeteria. (At the same time, Hobba began a regular program of walking on a treadmill, building up to 30 minutes a day. She bought Strong Women, Strong Bones by Miriam Nelson, an expert on nutrition and physical activity at Tufts University, and started strength-training twice a week, first with cans of beans and soda bottles, and then with real weights. From February to November of 2000, Hobba took off 60 pounds.
Hobba kept eating well and exercising. By age 35, two years after she began her journey, Hobba had lost 120 pounds. Her blood pressure had dropped from 140/90 to 120/70; her cholesterol was reduced from 229 to 169; and her migraines vanished. Two years after that, when she had hit her goal weight of 145 pounds, she decided to try running the Boston Marathon. “I knew I wasn’t fast enough to qualify, so I thought I’d do it for charity.” She saw an ad for the Tufts fundraising team, joined up and, to her delight, met Miriam Nelson, author of the Strong Women books and director of the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity Prevention at Tufts.
“Everyone around me—Miriam, my friends, colleagues, and family—became part of my support group, reinforcing my good behavior,” says Hobba. “If I had a bad day and was thinking of skipping the gym, someone would stop me on the way out of work and say, ‘Wow, you look great. How did you do this?’ And guess what, I went to the gym that day.”
In turn, Hobba’s efforts to transform herself rippled out to those around her. Her roommate and best friend, Lynda, not only took off 40 pounds on Weight Watchers but started exercising, too, and greatly improved her overall health. (She once walked with a cane because of her arthritis, but soon began to walk freely, 2 to 3 miles at a time.) Hobba’s sister, Tracie, who had been obese all her life, took a boot-camp exercise course at Deanne’s urging and then, in 2010, trained to run a 5K race. A colleague began working out and lost more than 100 pounds. Two other work friends joined Weight Watchers, one has lost 25 pounds, the other 65. Hobba’s mother began to walk regularly, and her father and his wife began to walk and ride bikes. “The whole family started thinking more about their dining habits and being smarter about what they eat,” Deanne says—a reflection of her own profound change in attitude toward food.
“I used to think of food as a reward, something I thought I deserved,” she says. “Now I think of it simply as nourishment, as something to sustain me and enable me to do the things I want to do.” Deanne doesn’t deprive herself. She works hard to eat a healthy diet centered on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and the occasional baked potato or serving of brown rice. Every once in a while, she splurges on ice cream or a cookie or two. “Everyone does,” she says. “But the key is realizing that one bad meal won’t pack on 25 pounds. If you have a bad meal, don’t make it a bad day of meals, a bad week of meals. Just stop it right there.”
Every week, Hobba works out with a triathlon training group near her home in Salem, Massachusetts, an “awesome” group of six women, ranging in age from 40 to 63. “We share coffee and bagels, all right, but first we run ten miles,” she says. “They are my friends, my workout partners, my motivators; they’ve become an integral part of my life.
“How do I feel now? Happier and healthier than I’ve ever been.”
“Deanne is a remarkable woman,” says Nelson, who has kept in touch with Hobba ever since the Boston Marathon, e-mailing back and forth, exchanging news and encouragement. “I find her story incredibly inspiring, but the way she changed her life is an example anyone can follow.” Nelson’s new book, The Social Network Diet: Change Yourself, Change the World, was in part inspired by the monumental life shift made by Hobba and women like her and the positive effect they had on the people around them. The book is about making healthy change in your life by doing what Hobba and other women have done—transforming your eating, your activity level and your environment. “The choices we make about food and exercise reflect our social and physical environments,” says Nelson. “When those environments change, so do our habits. So to change your life, you must change your environment. What’s amazing is that your efforts to change your own life will have a halo effect, just as Deanne’s did, rippling out to those around you, making healthy living easier for all.”
The three keys to making a lasting transformation are rooted in the science-backed elements of successful behavior change, says Nelson. The first is “flipping a switch” for yourself, she says, “finding a moment in time when you say, ‘Enough is enough. I care about my health, my fitness, my quality of life. I have to change.’” For Deanne, that moment came at the amusement park. “But if you look hard,” says Nelson, “you can find your own trigger or catalyst, the thing that really spurs you on.”
Once you’ve made this commitment to positive change, then you need to change your social environment by surrounding yourself with a network of supportive people, as Deanne did. “It’s really difficult to create change completely on your own and it’s especially hard to maintain it,” says Nelson. “In seeking a supportive social network, look around you. The people you need may be right in front of you. Or you may need to branch out. Adopt new networks around running, biking, hiking—with individuals or in organizations. The goal is to surround yourself with helpful, like-minded people.” There are also online social-networking sites and self-monitoring resources devoted to healthy change that can support your efforts.
Hobba’s successful use of a support network is backed by solid research showing that people are more effective at losing weight—and keeping it off—when they embark on weight-loss programs with friends, new or old. In a 1999 study at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, 166 people were recruited to participate in a weight-loss program—half of the people alone and half with a support network of three friends or family members. Of those who participated alone, only 24 percent maintained their weight loss after 10 months, compared with 66 percent of those who completed the program with the support of a friend or family network.
The same is true for adhering to exercise regimens: research shows that if you work out with friends or colleagues, as Hobba does, it’s more likely that you’ll stick with your exercise rituals. A 2009 study of 344 men and women at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that exercising with a partner boosted weight loss.
The third key to making lasting healthy change is addressing your food and physical activity environment, says Nelson. “Your home environment is especially critical, but your work and community environments matter too.”
In the fall of 2011, Nelson traveled 6,800 miles across the United States, from Alaska through the Heartland, the South, the Midwest, to the East, stopping at towns along the way to spread the message and launch “Change Clubs.” These groups of 12 to 15 women promote healthier lifestyles in their communities by encouraging healthy eating in homes and schools, arranging group walks and working with officials to make streets safer for biking and walking. In each town, Nelson visited several homes to identify and categorize the healthy and not-so-healthy food items stored in refrigerators and pantries.
“I did what I call a ‘scavenger hunt,’” she says. “I pulled out things from the refrigerator and cupboards to look for products with added sugar and solid fats.” These processed foods, which abound on our grocery-store shelves, carry hidden calories, amounting to 35 percent of our daily intake, about 750 calories. “Until the food industry changes its practices, we have to be the gatekeepers of the food in our own homes,” says Nelson. “You will eat what is easily accessible in your house. So make the choices healthy. That means buying fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, and staying away from foods high in added sugars and refined grains. This, in turn, will send a message to the food industry that we want healthier options.”
The changes you make in your own life—in your home, work and community—will make you healthier, says Nelson; they’ll also have a profound effect on those around you, just as Hobba’s life changes did. “The next thing you know, you’ll be at the center of your own positive, healthy social network, with others wanting to join your efforts. This new, constructive social and physical environment will, in turn, make your own healthy change stick by reinforcing and maintaining it.
“That’s what it will take to create an environment in this country that promotes health for all,” says Nelson. “If we work together, we can do it!”
Although I have never met the authors of this book, I am familiar with Dr. Miriam Nelson from my years of living in Boston. She was also part of the Dietary Guidelines committee and has written a number of books targeted toward women (Strong Women series). When I became aware of this book release, I was curious to read Dr. Nelson’s modern take on nutrition, fitness and getting healthy, particularly since she had the research data at her fingertips when working with the DGAs.
You’ve heard all the diet tricks, tried all the workout plans, but have you tapped into your social network? And how powerful is the social network, as a contributor to your health?
If you’re a movie-goer, you may think that this is talking about Facebook, Twitter or some other online supportive group to help you get healthier. That’s what I thought.
The Social Network Diet is about getting back to the roots of connection: people. It explores the power people have on each other in making choices about their health, nutrition and exercise. And people do have powerful influence from mom and dad, to extended family and friends. These connections, or social networks, provide support, influence attitudes and provide opportunities for engaging in healthy behaviors, like exercise. Or they keep you heading down an unhealthy path in life.
At a time when the magic pill for health includes fast weight loss through drastic diets, adopting a grueling exercise schedule and the message “it’s up to you,” The Social Network Diet suggests a simpler and different approach.
It encourages you to connect and surround yourself with people who have the same goals and outlook on health, nutrition and exercise. The Social Network Diet shows you how to create social networks and use them advantageously. It promotes exercise in the company of people, assuring you’ll be more likely to stick to it when it’s fun. And social!
This book also provides you with the nutrition information to find an eating plan that is realistic and long-term. It gives you tools to make good food choices while explaining what people eat and the way they do it.
I thought this book provided a refreshing and different perspective on a popular topic diet and exercise. I agree that many people who are trying to change behaviors do better with a social circle of support.
I have a social network for exercise I run (when I don’t have a stress fracture!) with a friend a few times a week, and walk with Father of the Year too. My kids join me on weekend hikes, and sometimes I grab a friend and go to the gym. And sometimes I do it alone.
Do you have a social network to help you stay on track with nutrition and exercise?
--Just the Right Byte
5 Ways to Change Your Life—for Good Five no-fail strategies to finally stick to your goals. Barbara Brody Shape Magazine
You swore this was the year you’d stick to those resolutions, but that jumbo tin of caramel popcorn and comfy couch are calling your name. Join the club: About 40 percent of Americans make a life-enhancing vow on January 1—and half “relapse” within the first 21 days. How to sail through that critical launch period and keep on going? Start with these five no-fail strategies.
4. Rally support “Research proves that people who make healthy changes together are more likely to succeed,” says Miriam E. Nelson, Ph.D., coauthor of The Social Network Diet and a professor of nutrition at Tufts University. She adds that the more similar your objectives are, the better you’ll all do—so if your close pals aren’t up for your brand of self-improvement, keep looking. Check out sparkpeople.com to find a compatible diet comrade, ask someone in your HR department about getting a Weight Watchers at Work program going, or locate a running team in your area through the Road Runners Club of America (rrca.org).
Good Health, With a Little Help from My Friends
There’s a group of women in my life who have a big effect on my wellbeing. We meet nearly every day around dawn, no matter what the weather. They are the women in my 5:30 AM exercise class, and they’re one of my social networks.
According to Tufts University professor and researcher Miriam Nelson, PhD, a social network consists of a group of people and the connections between them. “We’re just beginning to understand how profoundly we’re affected by our social networks,” Nelson writes in her latest book, The Social Network Diet.
Nelson says the emerging research shows that social networks strongly influence body weight and health-related lifestyles behaviors, such as smoking and working out. Depending on the actions and degree of influence of members, social networks can support, or hinder, a healthy lifestyle.
“I know from my own experience that the company I keep has a major influence on my actions,” Nelson says.
Ditto for me, and in a good way.
Working out with a group provides a sense of commitment to regular exercise, and strengthens it. The people in my class notice when you miss and gently rib you about when you come back. I need that vigilance to get out of bed so early in the morning.
But I get more than a great workout with these women. Huffing and puffing alongside them reduces stress and helps me feel calmer for the rest of the day. As a result, I am more productive, and I eat and sleep better.
To say that our early morning workouts have saved my sanity on more than one occasion may sound melodramatic, but it’s not an overstatement. Most of the women don’t know the details of my life, but somehow their collective presence and commitment to fitness is a huge comfort to me when things get rough.
Recently, the deaths of two dear friends and the constant medical challenges of close relatives have been enough to lay me low on many occasions.
Being among the women in my exercise classes gives me the strength to soldier through those, and other, difficult situations.
I only hope that the rest of the group, including the woman in the back row who recently completed chemotherapy for breast cancer, feels a similar sense of security and camaraderie. The same goes for my good friend and fellow exerciser who recently helped her mother-in-law live out the last months of her life with dignity and grace, even though it took a toll on her to do so.
A network can be small or large. It may include family, friends, or, as in the case of my exercise class, people you don’t know so well. No matter what the configuration, social networks whose members have positive health habits may be the ultimate strategy for a sound body and mind.
By Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.
February 7, 2012