#268 Friends and Fat

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Keep away from those who try to belittle your ambitions.
Small people always do that, but the really great
make you believe that you too can become great.

Mark Twain

Can Your Friends Make You Fat?

By Steve Edwards

FamilyA new study suggests that we might "catch" obesity from those around us. Now instead of just cold and flu season, it appears we have to worry about fat season, which unfortunately lasts all year long. Further research suggests that we're three times more likely to be overweight today than we were a decade ago, and that 75 percent of us will be obese by 2015. Clearly, we're in the middle of an outbreak. Before you freak out though, read on, because we've already found a cure.

This issue came to a head with the publication of a study in the July 2007 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) that suggests that "obesity is contagious." The week before this, another article was published that included the findings of a Johns Hopkins University study projecting that 75 percent of Americans would be overweight by the year 2015. Since bad news always happens in threes—CNN capped July with an interactive map showing rising obesity rates nationwide, state by state, with almost all states clocking in with obesity rates higher than 20 percent in 2004, while in the deep South, rates had climbed above 25 percent.

Be careful who your friends are

Friends EatingThe NEJM study was particularly interesting. From 1971 to 2003, two scientists analyzed the health data of 12,000 people who were part of the Framingham Heart Study, an ongoing cardiovascular study. These participants then provided contact information for friends, which resulted in a total study group of more than 38,000 people. The goal was to find the relationship between an individual's family, close friends, and social network and his/her health. The results indicated that all peers, not just family, had a dramatic effect on an individual's fitness. (Read this for more on the questionable role that family or genetics plays on obesity).

The researchers found that if an individual in the study gained weight, there was a 57 percent chance that a close friend had also gained weight. Among siblings, there was a 40 percent chance that if one became obese the other would too, whether the other was a sister or brother. Among spouses, the chances were 37 percent. Many other stats were published, but the bottom line was the link between friends. The closer the relationship, the greater the chances became that the friends' fitness conditions would be similar.

Teen SmokingResearch on peer pressure in certain groups, particularly teenagers, is fairly well known. Not many people contest the idea that a teen's peers affect their behavior, particularly whether or not they smoke, drink, or use drugs. But this was the first major study to look at peer influence over body shape. The study also took notes on close friends, and friends of friends, and found links among one's entire social network.

"What appears to be happening is that a person becoming obese most likely causes a change of norms about what counts as an appropriate body size," noted study co-author Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, from Harvard Medical School, in LiveScience. "People come to think that it is okay to be bigger since those around them are bigger, and this sensibility spreads."

If it's socially acceptable, then why should you care?

ChartBeing thin is not all about social acceptance. A thin body is, generally, a healthy body. It's estimated that obesity causes over 300,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. The health care cost of treating obesity, in America alone, is approximately $100 billion. In England, obesity is responsible for around 30,000 deaths per year. "There are clear links between obesity and our biggest killers, heart disease and cancer," said British Public Health Minister Yvette Cooper in the British Medical Journal.

Then there's type 2 diabetes, the fastest growing illness on the planet, which is directly related to obesity. Currently, approximately 56 percent of Americans are overweight, one in five is clinically obese, and 7.3 percent have diabetes. Furthermore, because so many cases go undetected, it's estimated that more than 10 percent of the U.S. population could potentially have type 2 diabetes.

If people lost weight, the percentage would plummet. According to a study published in the NEJM in 2002, lifestyle changes help more than drugs to combat the disease. The best prevention, according to the Mayo Clinic, is to eat healthily, exercise, and lose weight.

Reading the small print

Peers Work OutThere is a silver lining to all this. While the idea that obesity is contagious garnered all the attention, the NEJM article also stated that "thinness was also contagious." In the study, those who had thin friends tended to be thin themselves. Peer pressure, of course, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"We show that one person's behavior ripples through the network to have an impact beyond those first-order friendships," reported co-author James Fowler, a social-networks expert at the University of California, San Diego, to LiveScience. "So we're talking about dozens of people that are affected by one person's health outcomes and health behaviors."

Sure, the obesity trend is scary. But what we need to realize is that it's just that, a trend. It's not an epidemic. It can be easily reversed.

So about that cure we were talking about . . .

WorkoutWhen we launched the Message Boards in 2001 and WOWY® (Work Out With You), a networking program for virtual workout partners, a few years later, we understood the power that accountability plays in an individual's success and how our members could band together and support each other to accomplish their fitness goals. Many of our members come from situations wherein it's difficult to get thin, stay fit, and live a healthy day-to-day lifestyle. Our goal was to set up a support network that was so all-encompassing that it was hard for them not to become involved.

Power90®The Message Boards were an instant hit. At our first Success Story get-together, the Message Boards were the most-cited reason for weight loss success. Tony Horton, (who back then was only known as "the creator of Power 90®") called the Boards "the coolest thing I've seen in all my years in the fitness industry." The successes due to Board accountability led to the evolution of Beachbody's support tools and articles such as "The 2001 Best of the Boards" and "How to Cope With an Unsupportive Partner." "We all screw up sometimes. It's part of being human," confided Team Beachbody™ member Donna K, "and we're always here [on the Boards] with some positive feedback."

P90X® Peak Recovery Formula"Friends that are thousands of miles away have just as large an impact on you as friends who are right next door," Fowler told LiveScience, but it may as well have been Beachbody CEO Carl Daikeler explaining why he created WOWY. The Boards could help with daily support, diet, scheduling, and personal issues, but they lacked one thing, a real-time workout partner. WOWY was created for those times when you "just don't feel like it." With WOWY, you can have a friend who will come over "virtually" and drag you to the "gym." You schedule your workout ahead of time, generally with other people. When you log on, you actually see them there waiting for you (if not, get on your IM and drag them to the gym). Once you've finished, your workout buddy will be there in the cooldown chatroom. The only thing missing is a virtual smoothie bar—though members have been known to sip their P90X® Peak Recovery Formula while chatting.

Besides the Message Boards and WOWY, Team Beachbody now has an entire site dedicated to member support. From calculators to diet plans to trainer tips and chats, it's probably the most vibrant fitness community in the world. If a 38,000-person study proves that you can "catch obesity," we have over a million members who've proven you can also "catch fitness." No matter how contagious your family and friends may be, we have the antidote.

Steve Edwards If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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3 Cool Soups for Summer

By Joe Wilkes

It's summer and the mercury is rising. The last thing any of us is in the mood for is a hot, steaming bowl of chicken noodle or miso soup—which is too bad, because for those of us who are keeping an eye on our calories, soup can be filling, nutritious, delicious, and most importantly, low in calories and fat. But cheer up, soup lovers, we don't have to wait for the first cold winds of autumn to bust out the soup bowls. By borrowing a couple of pages from the cookbooks of our friends across the Atlantic, we can keep a fridge full of refreshingly cool, healthy, soupy goodness.


GazpachoGazpacho is a traditional soup from the Andalusian area of Spain. It is generally made with a tomato base and can include onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and stale bread to thicken it. It was served memorably in the Spanish film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, where the suicidal heroine blended her gazpacho with a bottle of sleeping pills and accidentally served it with hilarious results. Gazpacho can be made in a blender (though we recommend omitting the sleeping pills), or for those with knife skills, it can be made chunky style, with the vegetables diced into small pieces. The ingredient list can be as varied as both your imagination and your produce department allow. Try steering toward fresh vegetables and low-calorie ingredients. If you want to give yourself a protein boost, you can garnish the soup with some chopped, boiled egg white or diced lean ham.


4 cups tomato juice
6 fresh or canned whole tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup diced jicama
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Fresh squeezed lemon juice to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco sauce to taste
Dash Worcestershire sauce
Minced chives, parsley, or cilantro for garnish

Combine all ingredients in pitcher or blend to desired consistency. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to blend. Serve with chives, parsley, and/or cilantro as a garnish. Makes 8 servings.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Refrigeration Time: Overnight

Nutritional Information: (per serving)

Calories: 91 Protein: 3 g Fiber: 3 g
Carbs: 14 g Fat Total: 3 g Saturated Fat: <1 g


BorschtBorscht was a staple in my Russian grandmother's house. When I was a child, I was a little skeeved out by the fluorescent purple-white liquid with bits of egg floating in it, but as I got older, I learned to appreciate the great flavors and the health benefits of the soup. Now, you'll always find a pitcher in my refrigerator and a couple of bowls in my freezer filled with the tasty soup. Borscht comes from Russia, Poland, and the Ukraine, and like Spanish gazpacho, there are as many different ways to make it as there are cooks. It generally uses beets as its base, and additional vegetables like onions, cabbage, and tomatoes can be added. Beef broth can be used to make a heartier stock, and it is often garnished with chopped egg. The coup de grace is usually a generous dollop of sour cream swirled into the dark violet broth, but come on, this is a Beachbody newsletter. We'll be substituting the sour cream with nonfat or low-fat yogurt.


5 to 6 medium-sized beets, julienned
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
16 cups low-sodium chicken, beef, or vegetable broth
1 head cabbage, chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled, chopped small
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
6 hard-boiled eggs, chopped, for garnish
Fresh dill, chopped, for garnish
Nonfat or low-fat yogurt (preferably Greek style) for garnish

In a large pan, sauté onion, carrot, and beets in olive oil until softened. Stir in tomato paste and set aside. In a large stockpot, bring broth to a simmer and add cabbage and potatoes. Simmer cabbage and potatoes for a few minutes and then add the beet-onion-carrot mixture. Add remaining ingredients (except eggs, dill, and yogurt) and simmer for 15 minutes. Refrigerate overnight. Serve in a soup bowl or mug topped with half of a chopped boiled egg, a pinch of dill, and a tablespoon of yogurt. Makes 12 servings.

Preparation Time: 25 minutes
Cooking Time: 25 to 35 minutes
Refrigeration Time: Overnight

Nutritional Information: (per serving)

Calories: 154 Protein: 10 g Fiber: 4 g
Carbs: 20 g Fat Total: 3 g Saturated Fat: 1 g


VichyssoiseThis rich, creamy soup made with potatoes, leeks, onions, and heavy cream is considered by many to be a French classic. Although, some trace the soup's provenance to the Ritz Hotel in New York, where a French chef created a creamy, blended, cold version of his peasant mother's potato-leek soup, which he named after his hometown of Vichy, France. Wherever it comes from, it is the soup that renowned chef, Kitchen Confidential author, and Top Chef judge and haranguer Anthony Bourdain credits with launching his love for food. And it is the favorite cold soup for many a gourmand. Usually, it's off limits for those watching the bathroom scale, as the traditional incarnation contains loads of heavy cream. However, with a few adjustments and substitutions, a delicious variation can be made that is satisfying without being ruinous for a diet. One of the main ingredients, the leek, is the vegetable that Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don't Get Fat, credits as an important part of her slimming regimen. Read more about Guiliano's book and "How French Women Stay Slim (Without Starving)."


4 large leeks, white and light-green parts
1 large onion
1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 medium potatoes (Yukon Golds are good), peeled, finely diced
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups evaporated skim milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped chives for garnish

Rinse leeks well, removing all sand and grit. In a food processor or blender, chop the leeks and onions finely. In a large saucepan, sauté the leek and onion mixture in olive oil until vegetables appear translucent. Add potatoes and chicken broth and simmer until potatoes are soft, to the point of dissolving. Puree the saucepan contents in a food processor. Refrigerate contents overnight. When soup has cooled, stir in evaporated milk and salt and pepper to taste (white pepper makes for a more appealing-looking dish). Then ladle into bowl or mug, top with a tablespoon of chopped chives, and serve. Makes 6 servings.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 to 25 minutes
Refrigeration Time: Overnight

Nutritional Information: (per serving)

Calories: 238 Protein: 13 g Fiber: 4 g
Carbs: 43 g Fat Total: 2 g Saturated Fat: <1 g

Joe Wilkes If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Test Your Summer Vegetable IQ!

By Joe Wilkes

True or False:

  1. AvocadosTRUE: Americans consume 50 million avocados on Super Bowl Sunday. That's a lot of guacamole. Enough to bury a football field with 12 feet of the green stuff. Most of those avocados are probably Hass avocados as it is the only variety of avocado that is grown year round. Now is the time to check out your farmers' market for the seasonal varieties, including Reed and Zutano avocados. The average avocado has 300 calories and 30 grams of fat.

  2. FALSE: It's better to buy unwaxed cucumbers than waxed cucumbers. The reason your grocer waxes the cucumbers isn't just for looks—it's to seal in the moisture content. Cucumbers contain lots of water. In fact, they contain so much that their cores are 20 degrees cooler than the air around them. This may be where we get the phrase "cool as a cucumber." Waxed cucumbers will not lose their moisture as quickly and will stay fresh longer. Generally, waxed cukes will last a week in the refrigerator. Unwaxed or cut cucumbers should be wrapped tightly in plastic.

  3. BeetsTRUE: Beets can increase your sex drive. Beets contain large amounts of boron, which is necessary for the production of sex hormones. Additionally, boron reportedly fights the effects of garlic breath, which most would agree is a turnoff in the love department.

  4. FALSE: Okra is native to the southern United States. Okra is actually native to Africa and was brought to America with the slave trade. Angolan slaves called it ngumbo, which is where we get the word "gumbo" for the savory Creole stew. Okra is also related to the mallow plants that were originally used to make marshmallows and whose seeds are roasted and used to make perfume in some cultures.

  5. EggplantFALSE: Italy is the world's leading producer of eggplant. Despite its popularity in Italian cuisine, China produces 55 percent of the world's eggplant, with India a distant second at 28 percent. In the world, more than 4 million acres of land are devoted to growing eggplant.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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