Halo Effect?

Did you see this NPR article today, “Gain Together, Lose Together: The Weight-Loss ‘Halo’ Effect?”

Per the article:

The so-called “halo effect” has been shown among people who drink alcohol and people who smoke, as well as those who gain weight. But now, Morton showed a positive halo effect — losing weight.

“I think most of the family members who came wanted to help out their spouse, Dad, whoever it might be,” he says. “They wanted to support them and they supported them by making healthy food choices, by exercising together.”

Morton’s study, which was published in the October issue of the Archives of Surgery, found that family members lost as much as 5 percent of their initial body weight, enough weight loss to bring down the risk of obesity-related heart disease and diabetes.

I find this to be absolutely fascinating — and think it definitely rings true in a family setting. But I also can see how it can turn negative when the concept is translated to female relationships.

Allow me to explain.

I remember a (former) friend and I began our first attempt at dieting around the same time. We were roughly the same size though our shapes were not exactly the same. And though we had boyfriends who loved us exactly as we were, if we were being honest with ourselves, we were both feeling unhappy in our own skin and itching for a change.

One day I called her and told her I was going to be joining WW like my mom, and around the same time, she started tracking her calories in preparation for a family trip that summer. We were each thrilled to have each other along for the ride.

At first, it was fun to have a weight-loss buddy … someone to eat lunch with, share recipe ideas with. She introduced me to Body Pump; I raved to her about Spinning. We high-fived each other for hitting milestones: first five pounds, first time we got into single-digit clothing sizes, first time we were able to buy our much-coveted (at the time) Citizens jeans, when we first wore a bikini, when we hit goal.

But eventually, it felt like a silent competition; a “race to the finish,” if you will. I don’t think either of us really felt that way at the time — but in time, I know I certainly came to feel that way.

I thought she was extreme dieting (I’d still stand by that today) and she thought I was extreme exercising (I was, though it progressively got worse in time). We’d make comments to each other like, “Whoa, that’s ALL you’re eating for lunch?” or “But you already worked out today, didn’t you?” — passive-aggressively calling each other out.

We used to joke we should enjoy these bodies NOW because once we have kids, it’d be all downhill … Going out to eat wasn’t nearly as much fun anymore … and much of our conversation became dominated by things food, fat and fitness. Sometimes I didn’t want to “be good” but would in front of this friend, only to go home and eat something decadent later. Or, the reverse, we would go for fro-yo and talk about how “bad” we were being.

[Today, I try to refrain from that type of talk … food isn’t “good” or “bad” … it simply is food but it look a long time for me to get there … and that’s probably why I have some extra lbs on my body at the moment, too ;)]

And, if I’m being perfectly honest with myself — and I am; this is my blog, after all! — I was a bit (ugh, I hate this word …) jealous; I never lost as much weight as she did and never wore as small a size as she did. I never looked as thin as her; never rocked a bikini like she could.

Though now I realize how juvenile and vain those feelings were, they were completely how I felt at the time and I make no apologies for them. As one of my favorite people would say, “It is what it is.”

It was weird; we didn’t talk about the silent competition until we were well into in maintenance mode … and then in order to keep our new bodies, we both had to work extra hard. It was a sad truth to realize: losing weight was the easy part!!! It goes without saying that, for me, that’s when I began the downward spiral into disordered eating; a spiral that took many years to extricate myself from.

She and I aren’t friends any longer (for reasons irrelevant of this situation) so it’s not like now — eight years later — I can dish with her about it, but I do feel like sometimes the halo effect can cause an unhealthy competition to arise, particularly when dealing with female friendships.

And I also don’t know if it would have been different had it been a different friend. I mean, I’ve never been jealous of any of my other friends who have lost weight … why her? Because we were experiencing it together? Who knows …

On the flip side, I don’t think I would be jealous of L if he lost weight and I don’t think he’d be jealous of me, either. I think we’d be genuinely supportive of one another and encourage each other along. In fact, we both have some weight to lose — and are working on it. We’re trying to be better about meal planning and giving each other time at night to trade off (Zumba for me; racquetball for him); we both come home happier and feeling much better post-gym. We’re also excited to get a bike attachment for Maya so we can enjoy one of our favorite family activities: biking! So I wonder if the family/spouse-dynamic changes the output of the halo effect in some cases?

I don’t know if I’m alone in my experience but would be curious to know what others think. Am I crazy? Is it a female thing?

How about you? Have you experienced jealousy as a friend lost weight or been on the receiving end of some jealousy? Or have you been positively impacted by the halo effect?


4 thoughts on “Halo Effect?

  1. Yeah, I think there may be something to this reverse halo thing…which is good for me.

    Nick Saban says “it is what it is” often, but since you dont have any Alabama connections I suppose he wasnt to whom you were referring?

  2. I have absolutely seen and witnessed this. When I lost weight after my surgery, my best friend and I had a huge falling out and didn’t speak for years. We got back together, but have never addressed it. I am convinced it was because I was so very happy for the first time in my life and she was jealous. (I may have been obnoxiously happy, feeling like everything in my life would be great from then on, so I had a lot to learn, but still…) And I definitely still get jealous when someone I know tries to lose weight and does.

    And for what it’s worth, I pretty much hate going out to eat because someone always ruins the meal by talking about what they “can” or “can’t” order, what they “shouldn’t” eat or telling someone else why what they’re eating isn’t good for them. I pretty much avoid going out to eat with certain people for this reason specifically. I feel like the dieting industry has really ruined that. Sure, we shouldn’t be eating blindly, but they hyper-policing is annoying.

    1. It’s so fascinating and sad, isn’t it, Candice??

      YES, I was SO one of “those annoying people” and let me tell you I feel sooo much better now being someone who just eats what she wants silently. No one needs to know the “why” behind someone’s dining choices. I was horribly guilty of that — “justifying” my decisions. I was freaking annoying!

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