#431 10/27/2010 SOCIAL NETWORKING
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There is nothing funny about Halloween. This sarcastic festival reflects, rather, an infernal demand for revenge by children on the adult world.

Jean Baudrillard

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You Are What Your Friends Eat: How Social Networks Affect Our Health

By Stephanie S. Saunders

Everyone knows that you are what you eat. But what if you actually are what your friends eat? What if obesity was not hereditary, but contagious? Sure, it's easier to blame your parents for that sort of thing. After all, why wouldn't the size of your hips be the result of bad genes? But a few years ago, two scientists published an extensive study of 12,067 people in the New England Journal of Medicine that seems to prove that we are directly affected by the habits of others.

Young People Eating Pizza

Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler theorized that weight gain in an individual is associated with weight gain in his or her siblings, spouse, and neighbors. The phenomenon is called a "contagion" and can be described as a kind of social virus that is transmitted by proximity. It seems a person is 57 percent more likely to become obese if they have a friend who becomes obese. If a sibling becomes obese, the other sibling has a 47 percent increased chance of having the same thing happen to them. And a person has a 37 percent chance of serious weight gain if their spouse starts tipping the scales. No one is exactly sure how it occurs, but our social environment seems to infect us, and we in turn, spread it.

Yes, you read it right. It seems weight gain and the flu have a lot in common, except Walgreens® isn't doling out shots to keep you thin. Many public health leaders, including the National Institute of Health, now believe that this growing science of social networks can be used to improve health on a huge scale. By either creating new social networks, like a dieting group, or by influencing the leaders of already-existing health-related groups such as the Team Beachbody® Message Boards, positive health messages will become contagious. But how can we affect those we care about, and not be affected by unhealthy behaviors?

"Be the change you want to see in the world." —Mahatma Gandhi

Two WomenThe first thing we can do is be an example. You're reading this newsletter, so you already have some interest in your health. It's more than likely you're also on a kick-butt exercise and nutrition program that's altering your appearance. You're already creating the change in yourself, and that will, in turn, have an effect on others. If you want to make a real difference, stay on the path. It is quite easy to reach our goals, only to let them slip away over an extended vacation, holiday season, or traumatic event like a breakup. What this says to an outsider is: "If Tom couldn't keep the weight off, how is there any hope for me? Why even bother?" If you want to inspire others, continue to be an inspiration.

"The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own." —Benjamin Disraeli

Who really has time to talk anymore? We have emails, IMs, and text messages that have pretty much replaced verbal communication. We're all running around trying to accomplish things, which will fall behind schedule if we meet someone for coffee. Yet, sometimes just talking to people about their health and encouraging them to change can be the difference between being healthy and having a lifelong struggle with obesity. You've gone from a size 8 to a size 4, or from a beer gut to a six-pack. People around you will most likely ask how the heck you did it. When they do, ask them to grab a nonfat latte and sit down, because you have something to share with them.

"Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher." —Oprah Winfrey

Removing yourself from every situation that has unhealthy people in it is impossible and unnecessary. We're all tied into our friendships, jobs, and families by many threads, most of which we couldn't sever if we wanted to. You know your best friend from junior high would hunt you down if you moved to a small island off the coast of Madagascar. So instead of losing your relationships, make it a point to tip the scales and add a few more. Finding like-minded people—be it at a gym, a cooking class, a yoga studio, a fitness retreat, or a well-known local hiking spot—can open you up to new ideas and new positive influences. As your resolve becomes strengthened by your new friendships, you will be that much more able to assist your more established friendships.

Candles"Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared." —Buddha

If you truly want to create a change in the health of others, there are thousands of programs out there that need volunteers. From the national organizations designed to raise money for diseases, to the local car wash that supports the high school athletic program, there's always someone who could use your assistance. Or better yet, create your own network of people making a difference, in whatever way you feel driven. Organize that 10k to benefit the YMCA, petition your state school board to increase physical education and remove vending machines full of sugar from your schools, or create a foundation to bring food to famine-stricken parts of the world. Making a big difference in the health of others can begin with one person, and it could be you.

Conclusion

Why we are so susceptible to the influences of others remains a mystery. From the time we are babies, we learn to mimic gestures and language. As adults, we still mimic yawns, laughs, and often aggression, as the mob after a recent NBA playoffs game proved. And now it seems we can mimic weight gain or loss, along a host of other behaviors. Before getting swept up in the crowd, take a moment and decide what you want for your life. You can choose your own destiny, and maybe help shape the lives of others in the process.

References:

  1. Christakis, N. A. and J. H. Fowler,. "The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years." New England Journal of Medicine 357 (July 26, 2007): 370-379.
  2. Eric Jaffe, "The 'contagion' of social networks," Los Angeles Times, September 13, 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/13/health/la-he-social-networks-health-20100913
  3. Clive Thompson, "Are Your Friends Making You Fat?" New York Times, September 10, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/magazine/13contagion-t.html
  4. R. William Doherty, "Emotional Contagion and Social Judgment," Motivation and Emotion 22, No. 3 (1998), 1-2.

Related Articles
"Can Your Friends Make You Fat?"
"10 Tips to Not Gain Weight While Dating"
"Why You Might Be Losing the Battle of the Bulge"

Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development, who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards, Steve Edwards, on Monday, November 1st, at 3:00 PM ET, 12:00 PM PT. Go to the Beachbody Chat Room.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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6 Tricks to Making Halloween a Healthy Treat

By Omar Shamout

Ghouls and goblins and ghosts, oh my! That's right, folks—Halloween is just around the corner, and if you're not careful, you might have to add another "G" to that list: gastric bypass. Okay, maybe that's a little extreme, but we all know how tempting it is for you adults to gobble down those sweets before, during, and after All Hallows' Eve—and that's nothing compared to the blitzkrieg of sugar your kids have in store for them. So take a minute to rethink some of your holiday traditions, learn some interesting ways to avoid the "scary" dietary pitfalls October brings, and rediscover what the spirit of Halloween is really all about! Trust me, the parents of the trick-or-treaters in your neighborhood will thank you too! (Sugar tantrums are terrifying.)

Carved Pumpkins

  1. Candy is candy, no matter how you sweeten it. Whether it's dolled up with HFCS or agave syrup, candy will still rot your children's teeth, mess with their blood sugar, and add to their waistlines. "Sweet" doesn't have to come from a factory, though. There are many tasty, less processed, more wholesome foods that will satisfy that sweet tooth just fine. Fruit can be made into a variety of delicious treats, and is loaded with vitamin C to help your immune system and fiber to aid your digestion, as well as a host of other nutritious vitamins and minerals. Many dried fruits, like raisins, come in small packets ideal for tossing into trick-or-treaters' bags. If you're willing to put in the effort, fresh fruit can be carved into many fun, devilish designs that will add more to the Halloween mood than the calorie count. Although safety dictates that not many trick-or-treaters accept fruit, particularly cut-up fruit, your ghoulish creations should be a hit at any Halloween party—even the grown-up ones. Think of all the possibilities with just these simple ideas: an orange as a mini-pumpkin, grapes as eyeballs, a melon as a brain, and either carrot sticks or string cheese as fingers. Okay, so string cheese isn't exactly a fruit, but you get the idea. Be creative!
  2. WalnutsGo nuts! If you don't have the time to indulge your inner artiste in the kitchen and create some spooky snacks, then consider handing out individually wrapped packs of almonds, pretzels, or trail mix to the kiddies. Pretzels are pretty low in calories, and almonds are chock-full of healthy fats and protein. Trail mix can be high in sodium, so keep an eye on the nutrition label, but all of these options are much healthier than candy.
  3. Don't be scared of the dark. If you or your kids just can't live without a chocolate fix, opt for dark chocolate over milk chocolate, because it's far less sweet, has fewer calories, and contains more iron and antioxidants. And without milk as an ingredient, you'll be consuming less saturated fat. Dark-chocolate-covered almonds are a personal fave!
  4. Become the Crypt Keeper. There was no better master of ceremonies than everyone's favorite cheeky little skeleton, so why not follow his lead, and host your own party or event for your friends or your kids' friends? That way, you'll know exactly what's going into their hungry mouths. Get those crafty-yet-healthy snacks ready, and continue the creativity by having a costume making-party, scavenger hunt, ghost story session, or scary movie night. Just pop in The Adventures of Pluto Nash or Stop or My Mom Will Shoot! and the young'uns will be terrified! No? Well, I suppose you know your kids better than I do, but I left the theater shaking . . . Getting back to the matter at hand, shouldn't Halloween be more of an activity (with an emphasis on active) than just an excuse to eat as much candy as possible? Besides, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and even Festivus will be here before you know it, all of which will provide plenty of time to celebrate the wonders of food. Keeping your kids occupied with fun things to do during Halloween is something they'll enjoy far more than a candy bar, one they'll be sure to look back on with a smile rather than the memory of an upset stomach.
  5. Take a hike! No, really. If your kids are restless and insist on hitting the pavement to beg for candy, why not find a nice big hill for this year's trick-or-treating trip? This will really separate the truly dedicated costumed adventurers from the mildly amused. If your group manages to make it all the way up the hill, then at least they've gotten in some exercise to balance out the chocolate overflowing from their bags. On the other hand, if they poop out halfway up, all the better for you—and their blood sugar! Plus, when they pass out early from exhaustion, you can toss out all the really bad stuff they acquired without them ever knowing!
  6. Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF BoxCoins over candy. It's never a bad time to teach your children about compassion, so try cutting candy out of the equation altogether by convincing them to trick-or-treat for UNICEF. In addition to being able to get coin boxes from UNICEF through the mail, you can also pick them up at any Toys "R" Us® or Babies "R" Us® store. (Go to http://youth.unicefusa.org/trickortreat/participate/ for more information.) By participating, your kids can collect money to help children around the world receive clean water, healthy food, and life-saving immunizations. What better reason could there be to put on a costume?

The bottom line is, the last thing we need in life is another holiday dedicated to unhealthy food. (Plus, with the amount of artificial ingredients, chemicals, and highly processed sweeteners in candy these days, most of it can barely even be classified as food.) The fun of Halloween has always been in the mood, the atmosphere, the thrill of the scare, and the excitement of planning and dressing up in a costume, so focus your attention on those things, and you're bound to create a memorable experience for everyone. And remember, keep it active!

References:

Related Articles
"8 Horrible, Disgusting, and Just Plain Scary Foods"
"Halloween Treats: How Your Diet Can Survive This Scary Holiday"
"9 Foods Not to Give Your Kids"

Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development, who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards, Steve Edwards, on Monday, November 1st, at 3:00 PM ET, 12:00 PM PT. Go to the Beachbody Chat Room.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Submit A CommentTell A Friend Bookmark and Share

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Recipe: Pumpkin Pie Shakeology

By Joe Wilkes

Pumpkin, Glass of Chocolate ShakeologyPut a little Halloween cheer into your Shakeology® this season. In addition to all the amazing Shakeology ingredients, you'll also get the nutritional benefits of pumpkin, which contains lutein, fiber, and alpha and beta carotene. Plus, the healthy polyphenols in cinnamon help regulate blood sugar levels. You'll get all the taste of pumpkin pie . . . without turning your butt into a pumpkin.

  • 1 scoop chocolate Shakeology
  • 1 cup rice, soy, almond, or low-fat milk (plain or vanilla)
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin, unsweetened
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • Ice (optional)

Combine all ingredients in blender and combine until smooth. You can substitute pumpkin pie spice for the cinnamon and nutmeg or add more pumpkin for a thicker shake. Makes 1 serving.

Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Nutritional Information (with low-fat milk; per serving)
Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
284 27 grams 7 grams 40 grams 3.5 grams 2 grams

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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