Weight Loss: Meet Your Goals with a Support Network

SBM: weight-loss-meet-your-goals-with-a-support-network

David Cavallo, PhD, MPH, RDN; Assistant Professor, Case Western Reserve University

Angela Pfammatter, PhD; Assistant Professor, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

It’s the New Year, and like many you are thinking about healthy living and weight loss. We often start off strong with a diet and exercise plan this time of year, only to stop a few weeks later. Success in changing poor health habits over the long term is often tied to having a peer support network of family and friends around you. Read below to understand how to get started with a support network and make this year – the year you stick to your eating and exercise goals. Remember to always base your eating and exercise on good science such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Why is a weight loss support network important?

Accountability. Have you ever heard the sound of your alarm clock early in the morning because you had some exercise planned but you hit the snooze button instead? We’ve all been there. Imagine if you knew someone was going to be waiting on you to take that walk or do that class at the gym. You would probably be more likely to get yourself up and get out the door.

Fun. You are more likely to do something that you find enjoyable. For many people, that means doing activities with someone else. For instance, an engaging conversation can help pass the time when you’re walking.

Confidence. Have you ever told your kids or someone you know “if they can do it, you can do it.” Having another person around can often inspire you to reach a new level or power through those times when your enthusiasm gets low.

Competition. Maybe you like to have a little friendly competition in your life. Imagine making a deal with one of your friends that you will both lose weight and see who can stick better to the plan.

Social Support. Having a friend or family member to rely on when trying to lose weight is invaluable. Other people in your life can help you in a lot of different ways. Maybe your friends can give some information that helps, like where to work out, or where to find inexpensive healthy food to buy. Sometimes you just need someone you can celebrate with (when things are going great), or someone to share your feelings with (when you’re having one of those tough weeks). Having friends and family around you that value and do the same healthy behaviors you do makes it all easier to do in the long term.

How do you find a support network when you want to lose weight?

Try a commercial service. There are many weight loss programs (things like Weight Watchers) that have built in support from other people, including face-to-face group meetings and online support groups.

Look for groups that already exist. Is there a wellness program where you work? Is there a walking group already established? Are there programs in your neighborhood that offer support or an online community that you can join?

Set up your own support system. Are there important people in your life who you think would support you or maybe even join you as you try to lose weight? Seek them out and see if they want to help you with your weight loss goals. This could be your friends, family, or maybe other groups of people you are associated with like co-workers or people who attend your church.

What are the most important elements of a support group or support team?

Avoid negative people. You may find that some people are not supportive of your efforts to improve your health. They may say things like “why are you spending so much time at the gym” or “you’re never going to be able to lose weight.” You might also find that you need be mindful of the time you spend with people who push unhealthy habits, even if they do not do this on purpose.

Set up a system of accountability. Make sure that you and your support partners have a way to check in. Maybe you could set up a weekly meeting or call to talk about things. Think about sharing your goals and discussing how you are doing with your support partners.

Find people who have the knowledge and resources that you need. It is easy to find misinformation about diets and losing weight online. Make sure that the plans you follow are from reputable services or providers that have backed their claims with science, and that the plan makes long term sense in your life.

Make sure you have a good way to communicate. There are so many tools now that can help you set up a support group. Things like Facebook groups or email lists can make it easier for you to share your experiences with people. If you are not someone who prefers these technologies, it’s not a problem. Use the phone or group meetings to communicate. Just be sure that everyone involved can use the chosen method of communication.

Find people who have similar interests/schedules. This is especially important if you want to meet face to face for meetings, lunch, or working out.

Remember, it can often feel like healthy behavior is not normal when you consider all the unhealthy messages you receive daily. But, if you make an effort to seek out good sources of support, you can build a healthy network that can help you meet your long term health goals.

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