When I was at my biggest, my family moved to Miami. I was already sad and alone, but now I was in a brand new city and school surrounded by all these sexy people to boot. It sucked.
Then my (worried) parents hired me a trainer of sorts, and we became friends.
Suddenly, for the first time, I started figuring out a healthy thing or two.
My senior year in high school, I joined the varsity basketball team with zero basketball ability (crazy story for another time), and the team experience drove me to become healthier than ever before.
In college, I joined the slow-carb community online and felt like I was a part of something, identifying with others like me, asking when I had questions, and helping others figure things out—and again, I got healthier.
When I reflect back on all the times in my life when I’ve struggled least with my health, there were always other people involved.
And when we ask Greatist’s community what’s holding them back from losing weight (their No. 1 goal), their answer isn’t a lack of information or inspiration. It’s actually how alone they feel on their journey.
“I’d totally go for a run tomorrow morning, but I don’t know anyone in town who’ll join me.”
“I want to cook a healthy dinner, but my family isn’t on board with that.”
“I know what to do. But my boyfriend holds me back.”
“Every time I try to stay on track, my coworkers get CUPCAKES.”
In a world where we prioritize and even increasingly define “health” differently, is loneliness the real issue?
Millennials are lonely. Finding dates may be easier than ever, but finding friends has never been harder. We engage in civic and religious community less than any other generation. We’ve moved online to connect with others, but it’s led to less connectivity than ever before.
Yet it seems like everyone else has it figured out, like everyone has awesome friends, looks great, and eats whatever rainbow-colored thing they want (and then Instagrams it, of course).
But most people don’t have it figured out.
And maybe all they need is someone to figure it out with.
Anyway, this explains the growth of CrossFit, Zumba, SoulCycle, the November Project, and more—movements that aren’t actually about health and fitness but about using health and fitness as the excuse to join a community of people. They’re effectively our replacement for church, which would mean health is the new religion.
This also explains a new generation of health and fitness influencers who aren’t experts but friends who are a little further along. It’s not only how Greatist has stood out (we write every article in that nonjudgmental, approachable voice), but also how Cassey Ho, Jessamyn Stanley, and so many food bloggers have become such big, awesome deals. If we don’t have that friend already, we follow them on social media.
The future, then, can’t be about what we should eat but who we should eat it with.
I know from a life’s worth of personal experience how hard this can be, but I’m hoping that by acknowledging loneliness as the issue, we can tackle it better. Together.
Here’s my puppy of the week:
Derek Flanzraich is Greatist’s founder and CEO. What’s Good is his take on the news, trends, and issues worth talking about in health and wellness, published every Monday. Sign up and get the column (plus puppy GIFs and other funsies) delivered early.
How Loneliness Affects Weight Loss