Humans are social creatures.
Our ancestors knew that coming together as tribes and later as societies and civilizations gave us big advantages in terms of survival and comfort. Those same social instincts, however, come with drawbacks.
Since we are always looking to the people around us for social cues, we can unconsciously shape our reality to accept certain behaviors and activities as normal and commonplace even if they are incredibly harmful. For example, you might remember that it wasn’t very long ago that smoking was as casual an activity as owning a cell phone is today. We had hints early on that cigarettes weren’t good for us, but everyone was doing it, so nearly everyone picked up smoking.
Even today, in the face of overwhelming evidence that smoking is a Habit of Disease, social influences can make an individual more likely to smoke.
As the obesity epidemic rages on, we are seeing a wide range of Habits of Disease become normalized to the point that many people think “it’s okay” to be overweight or to be inactive. And the change has been subtle. With a high rate of obesity, we are more likely to have people in our social groups who are overweight, so that starts to give us the impression that it’s common.
And then retailers and marketers and even television producers started following suit. Bigger clothing sizes are more accessible, mannequins are changing shape, and the people we are exposed to as celebrities or as characters are starting to shift farther up the body-mass index.
The world around us might be telling us that being overweight is normal, but that doesn’t make it any less unhealthy.
A recent JAMA study said, “Socially acceptable body weight is increasing. If more individuals who are overweight or obese are satisfied with their weight, fewer might be motivated to lose unhealthy weight.”
This is a dangerous trend. The norm for society should be healthy and active individuals striving to be better and to make their communities better. We should not allow disease to simply be a way of life, and we should not give up on our potential to make healthier choices and to leave longer, more vibrant lives. Just because others have fallen into Habits of Disease does not mean that we all need to spiral down that path—or worse yet, refuse to climb back out once we’ve fallen.
For us to move forward, we need to awaken ourselves to the opportunities in our lives and to work each day, little by little, to be better.
Here’s what I want you to take away from this:
- This is not about body-shaming or suggesting that someone who is unhealthy is somehow a bad person. Quite the opposite. So often people who struggle with their weight are incredibly kind, and that’s a big reason why we want to help. We want those good and caring people to be in this world for as long as possible!
- Be mindful of how your health bubble influences your choices. If you surround yourself with people who exercise and who make healthy eating choices, you are more likely to do the same. This is not to suggest that you dump any friend who is not on the path to optimal wellbeing but rather for you to be more aware of how your interactions with him or her influence your choices. Perhaps you invite that friend to spend time with the optimal wellbeing community so that you can become the stronger, more positive influence.
- Normal doesn’t mean healthy. Our society has a number of routine behaviors that are both incredibly common and incredibly unhealthy—from long binge sessions in front of the television to breakfasts that start with a pile of sugar splashed with milk—so look to trustworthy health experts who lean on science for your health advice.
- You have the power to be different and to make a difference. Even if you are overweight today, you can pick up micro Habits of Health this very minute to set you on the path to a healthier life. In making those choices, you can become a leader in your own right, helping others to be healthier and to be better.
Challenge the new norm! Lead the world in a different direction with your example!