For this week’s ‘Renew You’ Challenge, I decided to tackle something on everyone’s mind this time of year…those extra pounds many of us are carrying around.

So, it turns out, obesity is contagious. No, not in the same way as getting sneezed on by someone with a cold, but more like as when you spend a lot of time with people who are obese, you’re more likely to become obese yourself. Gaining weight is socially contagious.

Researchers aren’t exactly sure why this happens. They think it may be that unhealthy eating habits are shared, resulting in weight gain.

Well, I say if weight gain can be contagious in this way, so can weight loss! This week, if you find yourself in a group of friends that is gradually trading up dress sizes, be that friend who says, “Wait a minute! We’re on a downward spiral here. Let’s turn this around.”

You could suggest eating at healthier restaurants for lunch, or even swapping that high-cal lunch for a low-cal salad (topped with lean protein for sustained energy to last the afternoon). Maybe challenge one person per week to cook up a healthy meal so that everyone learns to search out healthy ways of cooking and eating on their own.

Start an exercise group, even if it’s a short walk once a week. (It’s likely to spark the inspiration in your friends, and you, to exercise more throughout the week.) Get creative, but not pushy. Take it one step at a time and understand that it can be hard to get people to change their habits. Don’t they say that you have to do something 12 times before it becomes habit?

Don’t give up – living healthier is also contagious!