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Creating a Support Network for a Weight-Loss Journey

The importance of finding your people for long-term success.

Your environment and the people around you can often impact your day-to-day routines and habits. The last couple of years have underscored the importance of feeling connected to loved ones and our broader social groups for many. Our social network can help us celebrate our successes in life as well as provide support during tough times. Your network—family members, friends, and those who are part of other communities (at work or the gym)—can encourage you and provide guidance to help you succeed, no matter what you’re going through.

When it comes to health or weight management, many people don’t recognize the need for social support. Many feel it is an extremely personal experience that they need to manage on their own, not realizing the meaningful psychological health benefits that companionship can provide.

Through my experience in both clinical settings at medical centers and community settings at WeightWatchers, I’ve seen firsthand the power of social support on weight-loss success. People going through a similar journey support each other when there are inevitable setbacks on the journey as well as celebrate successes both on and off the scale.

In fact, science has shown that when you have people in your corner, it helps in weight- and wellness-specific ways. Individuals with social support are:

  • More likely to engage in behaviors of healthy eating and physical activity
  • More likely to lose weight, those who receive the most social support from friends and family lose more weight at six months versus those who get little or no support
  • Less likely to regain weight or turn back to behaviors of unhealthy eating or unhealthy physical activity

Recruiting Your Support Team

Social support need not suggest a vast, many-tentacled network. It’s about having someone in your life who understands what you’re aiming to do and can provide you with help in achieving your goals. It’s a simple, powerful experience: You need a person (or people) in your corner to support you, and you need to “manage” the relationship so that they in fact help and don’t unintentionally harm your progress.

Whether you’re connecting with people in-person or virtually, using the following techniques can help you identify and build your network.

Your first question may be: How do I find my team? There’s always a “what” and a “who.” First, define what would be supportive for you. What is it you want? Think about areas and relationships in your life where you feel supported and happy. Perhaps it looks and feels like one of these scenarios:

  • Someone notices you’re stressed and asks what they can do to help
  • A coworker pitches in because you’re up against a deadline
  • A family member offers to take the kids overnight just to give you a break
  • A colleague reaches out after a tough meeting just to see how you’re doing

Then, apply these scenarios to what would be most helpful for you in your weight-loss or wellness journey. For example, having someone check in regularly about your progress, going on a walk with you after a stressful day, or helping you figure out a plan after you face a difficult setback.

Once you’ve defined the “what,” you need to identify who can and will help you. There are two pools of possible support: people you know (family, friends) and people you don’t yet know who might be particularly helpful. If you don’t have an existing circle, where might you find like-minded, supportive, nonjudgmental people to help? This may be an acquaintance from your gym or in a patient support group who is going through a similar journey.

Getting the Most From Your Support Team

The people in your life care about you and want what’s best for you, but often they don’t know how to help. And as much as you may benefit from having them in your corner, you may also struggle to communicate what kind of support would work best, for both your weight-management journey and the relationship you share.

That’s why it’s important to simply tell people exactly what you need, and don’t need, them to do for you to feel supported and accountable.

How do you cope with people in your social circle who are not being supportive? If, say, your partner doesn’t know how to help you, can you just give up on getting support from them and ignore everything that’s unhelpful, and simply decide not to ask them for their help? You could, but their actions, or lack of action, still influence you. Instead, you should give feedback on what they’re doing when it’s not working; communicate how they can better support you.

Keeping your support system informed about your progress and how to best help you along your journey is crucial. As you work toward health and wellness goals, your social circle can add fuel and decrease friction to your journey, at each step of the way.

References

Wills, T., and Ainette, M. G. Social networks and social support. In Handbook of Health Psychology (p. 465). Psychology Press, 2012.

Kiernan, M., et al. Social support for healthy behaviors: Scale psychometrics and prediction of weight loss among women in a behavioral program. Obesity, 2012;20(4):756–764.

Kayman, S., Bruvold, W., and Stern, J. S. Maintenance and relapse after weight loss in women: Behavioral aspects. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1990;52(5):800–807.

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